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Moline stops funding to library; lays off employees
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Moline stops funding to library; lays off employees

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The city of Moline has cut funding to the Moline Public Library, closed services and furloughed all library employees as the city struggles financially amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision was made during National Library Week, an irony not lost on more than two dozen protesters who marched in front of the library, 3210 41st St., Tuesday morning, voicing their disappointment with the city's recommendation. 

Library supporters carried signs reading, "We love you Moline Public Library staff!" and "We love librarians."

"We are longtime library patrons," Elaine Kaple said. "The library has been offering a lot of services even though there are stay-at-home orders. We're just really sad; I'm disappointed. I understand it's a really hard time for everybody, and we're doing our best to get by. I feel like the library is poised to help us during that time. This is the place people come for quality information."

Passing motorists slowed down, honked their horns and hung signs from their windows reading, "We love our library," and "When in doubt, go to the library."

Librarian Anita Mehuys signaled her gratitude in return, making a heart shape with her hands as tears welled up in her eyes. 

Library Board President Sue Blackall said the city recommended the discontinuation of services and laying off all employees. The library board approved the decision during the Tuesday, April 21, board meeting. Between 25 to 28 employees will be furloughed. 

"The city will save more than $400,000," she said. "They just won't transfer the money from the general fund budget to the library."

Until Tuesday, Blackall said the library was continuing to offer some services and access to librarians. She said curbside services for checking out materials were only offered for about a week in March until they were stopped. 

Services that will no longer be offered to the public include assisting with filling out the census, passport applications, distribution of tax forms and assistance from librarians with research. Librarians continued shelving books as they were returned. 

Blackall said all online e-services will continue and residents can continue to check out electronic books and do their own research.

"We were closed but allowed librarians to continue to work," Blackall said. "Staff will be laid off beginning (Wednesday) of about 25 employees. We are working very hard to see if they can keep their insurance. We deeply regret the hardships this brings to our dedicated and talented staff. We understand it's a horrible time, and we hope to keep this to a minimum and start bringing people and services back as soon as we can.

"This is just a temporary closure, and we deeply regret the loss of services. We are working with the city to create long-term sustainability for our library operations in light of COVID-19."

Interim City Administrator J.D. Schulte sent a letter to all city staff Monday, saying the city must "continue to provide vital, life-saving and life-sustaining services to our community as we always have. Due to financial setbacks being experienced during this time, however, some services that can be suspended must be analyzed.

"The gravity of this situation has forced a number of difficult but necessary decisions as we prepare to make some extremely sensitive recommendations to the city council to ensure Moline's sustainability," Schulte wrote.

Moline has $11 million in reserves

Meanwhile, the city has 89 days of reserves totaling $11.4 million, as approved by council members in November for the 2020 budget.

Moline Finance Director Carol Barnes and Schulte did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday. 

During the April 14 committee of the whole meeting, Derke Price, corporate counsel for the city, said the library would not receive $414,000 from the city. Derke told Mayor Stephanie Acri the city should notify the library board. 

"We need to let the library know they're not getting the $414,000 out of the general fund that you have complete control over and that their future levy is in doubt because this will have ramifications past this fiscal year," Price said. "They need to engage in a conversation with you right now about this year and next year."

Moline is the only Quad-City municipality to close library services and cut funding. It also is the only governmental body to lay off employees.

Rock Island County, Scott County, Davenport, Bettendorf, Rock Island, East Moline, Coal Valley and Silvis have not laid off any employees.

Davenport Public Library Director Amy Groskopf said Tuesday its library was not furloughing employees and many continue to work.

"Many are working from home providing online story times, STEM activities and virtual book clubs for library users," Groskopf said. "Some continue to do their regular work (of) cataloging and processing new materials so we have them available when we are able to re-open once again. Some are doing projects we don’t normally have time for (such as) inventorying collections, for example."

Jessica Gallagher and Graham Ambrose contributed to this reporting. 

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