Thursday, August 20, 2009

Brother, can you spare a book?

Because the mayor is feckless, the city council is spineless and Omaha taxpayers are shameless, the city's library system has been decimated.

And that same level of public non-service will be creeping across all of city government. Soon.

From a story this evening on KETV, Channel 7:

A day after the cuts are finalized, the reality is made clear for the libraries --the downtown branch will no longer be open on the weekend. Homeless shelter outreach programs disappear. Book trading between branches is severely curtailed. The Florence branch closes. Homework Hot Spots program disappears.

Mary Mollner is one of 53 to lose a job. More than a mentor, Mollner helped senior citizens connect to a 21st century world and she helped the jobless reform their resumes and find work.

"We bring the world of information to them and they come to us," Mollner said, fighting back tears.

Mollner's ideals of educating and enlightening aren't lost.

"During this time off, I'll go out and volunteer," Mollner said.

Teenagers like Samantha English turned to the library after school for homework help and book clubs.

"The programs here are fun. They actually get you out of trouble," English said.
ONE BRANCH'S HOURS are being reduced by 19 hours a week. Another's by 14.

And on the reductions in service go -- another 19 hours here. Four hours there. Two hours over there.

And at the main library downtown, a 21-hour cut per week. It will be closed all weekend starting Sept. 8.

I would suggest that high-school teachers start accepting Wikipedia as a legitimate reference source.

MEANWHILE, the head of Omaha's firefighters union has grudgingly negotiated a two-year pay freeze with the mayor. The deal stipulates that firefighters will get a raise in Year Three no matter what happens with the economy.

It also says they'll get makeup raises on top of their regularly scheduled raises if the fiscal picture improves. Would that my wife -- who had to take, without benefit of negotiation, a 5-percent pay cut plus five days' furlough -- could get to "sacrifice" to such an extent as our firefighters.

About the only thing hard times are showing us in the 21st century is to what extent we all figure every man -- and woman -- is indeed an island, contra John Donne. Librarians get fired, city services get slashed and the little (and big) things that make up a city's quality of life take a beating, all because people who damn well have enough money to live in a six-figure house say they'll be damned if they pay another $25 . . . or $50 . . . or $100 a year in property tax.

And because the best other alternative the mayor could come up with was a Rube Goldberg "entertainment tax." One that would hurt a struggling industry enough -- and thus garner enough angry opposition -- that its demise at the city council's hands was a given.

And because Mayor Jim Suttle doesn't have the cojones to implement an occupation tax that's been on the books since the early 1980s.

And because the city council ran out of creative alternative ideas before it even had a one. That is, apart from a recent proposals to furlough every city worker still standing for two-weeks.

BASICALLY, hard times came and no one stepped up. No one -- not government, not business, not taxpayers.

No one.

And we're officially hosed. Except, ironically, for the hose jockeys. They're making out just fine.

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