By Charlie Specht
NIAGARA FALLS -- City residents packed City Council chambers Tuesday to push for fiscal discipline and a budget that doesn't include layoffs or an 8 percent tax hike.
And while many challenged the city to live within its means, one budget item residents want restored is funding for the Earl W. Brydges Public Library.
Mayor Paul A. Dyster's proposed budget includes a decrease of $100,000 in library funding, a cut that would bring total city funding for the library down to $1.7 million.
"I’ve been able to see the incredible impact that center is having on our young people ... so that they can develop into positive residents and hopefully help combat this population bleed we’ve been dealing with for many, many decades," said Frank T. Croisdale, who runs the Niagara Rises non-profit that works to combat juvenile delinquency.
A few dozen children accompanied library leaders to the first row of Council chambers, where they held signs in support of restoring the funding.
"Kids have been doing a lot of bad stuff recently," one teen told the council. "If you cut the library, that’s just cutting another place for kids to do [good] stuff, because there’s not much for kids to do in Niagara Falls."
City resident Ken Hamilton, a former library board member, said the library helped him choose his future career.
"I grew up poor and motherless, and my window into the world was the Carnegie building of the Niagara Falls Public Library," Hamilton said. "It’s part of the reason I joined the Navy, to see all the places I had read about at the library."
One resident questioned where the funds for the library would come from, and noted the 2013 budget does include $125,000 worth of improvements to the library's parking lot and surrounding sidewalks.
But Hamilton said the library benefits the poorest members of the Niagara Falls community, many who come off the street.
"It is a respite, it is an oasis in the middle of the city, and when they’re in there, it is a glimmer of hope that they can open up a book and escape the existence that they live while they’re turning those pages … and we have to keep that," Hamilton said.
A final decision on the library's funding is expected near the end of the month after the City Council amends the proposed budget.