City News

Library will not shut down, city says, but more cuts on the table

The city of Salem is not planning to close the main branch of the Salem Public Library, though further staffing cuts are likely in July if city leaders don’t secure additional revenue to fund services. 

This weekend, social media in Salem was roiled by claims that the city plans to close its library in order to preserve its police budget. Concerns reached councilor’s email inboxes, and library employees alongside concerned community members have signed up in droves to testify at Monday’s Salem City Council meeting.

The city council is not scheduled to discuss the city budget Monday or making any decisions about budget cuts, library funding or library services.

“I do want to make sure that the community understands that we are NOT proposing to close the library,” said city spokeswoman Elizabeth Kennedy-Wong in a Monday email to Salem Reporter.

Mayor Chris Hoy said he got over 100 emails on Sunday, which were still coming in Monday afternoon ahead of the council meeting. 

“Mostly it’s: ‘prioritize the library because it’s important to our community, it’s a safe space’ all things that I generally agree with,” he said. The messages prompted him to make a Facebook post addressing the concerns.

What happened

The library closure rumors stemmed from a Thursday budget committee meeting, where Chief Financial Officer Josh Eggleston presented four hypothetical options for cuts that would allow the city to reach a balanced budget without additional revenue. He first presented those scenarios in October with some updates to numbers made since. 

The scenarios were created after City Manager Keith Stahley outlined a plan last fall for cuts in the city’s 2025 budget, assuming Salem would have no new revenue. Those cuts included positions at the library, which would further reduce hours, alongside parks and recreation, Center 50+, graffiti abatement and homeless services.

Eggleston presented the library closure scenario as a hypothetical in response to questions from councilors about what cuts would be needed to keep all city police and fire jobs, including an expanded team sweeping homeless encampments.

But Stahley is basing his proposed budget on his original scenario, cutting eight library jobs and a variety of other city services, Kennedy-Wong said. The city’s budget document is what the budget committee will base its deliberations on, and that document is still being created for next year. It will be presented to the budget committee on April 17.

Why is Salem considering budget cuts?

The city faces a multi-million dollar budget shortfall, which was the subject of Hoy’s State of the City speech last Wednesday. In the same speech, he said he hopes to see a better library for the community. The lack of funding already led to reduced hours at both branches earlier this year.

City councilors last July narrowly voted to impose a payroll tax on workers within city limits. Voters quickly referred the measure to the November ballot and voted it down decisively. The council then finalized plans for a Revenue Task Force to discuss other ways for the city to raise revenue and avoid cuts. That task force will share recommendations in July.

What cuts are on the table?

Stahley’s proposed budget for 2025 isn’t finalized yet. But the proposal he’s basing it on, which city councilors discussed last fall, included these cuts:

  • Cutting eight positions at the Salem Public Library, totalling $1.2 million.
  • Cutting $400,000 from Center 50+ and $400,000 from recreation.
  • Cutting seven positions in parks operations, totalling $700,000 in contracted services.
  • Cutting one position and grants toward youth development, totalling $224,000.
  • Cutting a graffiti abatement position at the Salem Police Department, totalling $91,000.
  • Cutting $400,000 in social service grants.
  • Cutting $510,000 in funding toward homeless safe parking and warming sheltering services. During the meeting, Eggleston said there is enough state funding to sustain these services for one or two more years.
  • Redirecting $70,000 in transient occupancy taxes, which are collected from hotels and other temporary lodging. 

Kennedy-Wong said specific positions and employees to cut have not been identified at this time. Some may already be vacant.

“HR is working to offer staff positions in other departments as they are available, notify staff of future opportunities, and support people to find new positions with support writing resumes, interviewing, and completing applications,” she said. 

Additional cuts would be needed later to maintain fund balance in the 2026 fiscal year.

Eggleston presented the other hypothetical options on Thursday to bring the budget committee up to speed about what questions had been asked by council, and scenarios already explored.

He told the budget committee to focus on the first slide, Stahley’s original plan, that he said will be part of the proposed budget for their consideration.

How Salem’s budget is made, and how to get involved

The budget committee, which includes the mayor, city council, and ten appointed community volunteers, will continue to discuss the cuts in meetings on April 17, April 24, May 1 and on May 8 when they will make their recommendation to city council.

In June, the city council will hold a public hearing before adopting the annual budget.

Hoy said no one knows yet what the final budget will be, and the money the city received from the state legislature hasn’t been worked in yet.

“The information provided outlined potential budget scenarios should we not be able to raise additional revenue. There are some who have held the position that the library should not be prioritized, but I assure you, I will do whatever I can to not let this happen. Individual council members can have their own ideas, but it takes at least 5 members of council to make anything happen,” he said on Facebook.

He said the majority of people don’t want to see the library reduced.

“The question is: how are we going to make that happen? We’ve got to figure that out,” he said.

The deliberations come as over half the city council positions are up for reelection in May, making budgets a major talking point for candidates. New councilors would begin their terms in January 2025, months after the budget is finalized, several years after this year’s budget decisions.  

Kennedy-Wong encouraged community members to keep sharing their thoughts with city council throughout the process. 

The city’s Revenue Task Force is also seeking public input on new ways to get money into the city to reduce the need for cuts. There are three upcoming town halls open to the public:

-April 10 from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at Baxter Hill Community Hall, 1780 Baxter Road S.E.

-A virtual town hall on April 16 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. There is not a sign-up link yet.

-April 23 at Center 50+, 2615 Portland Rd. N.E. from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Update: This story was updated at 3:48 p.m. to include that the City Manager will present the proposed budget to the budget committee on April 17.

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-575-1251.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.