City News

Library workers given layoff notice for July as city moves forward with budget cuts

Three librarians and over a dozen other library workers will lose their jobs in July, if the city’s budget committee does not alter City Manager Keith Stahley’s proposed budget.

Stahley’s proposed reductions include cutting three librarians, three library assistants and two vacant positions, and eliminating on-call library workers, who fill in when regular employees are unavailable. His budget would also cut a vacant graffiti abatement position in the police department, and lay off a full-time youth development worker.

Those layoffs, plus cuts to city budgets for the Center 50+, recreation programs, park operations and social service grants, total $3.9 million in cuts.

Library workers were notified of the impending layoffs Wednesday.

Stahley first proposed the cuts in September, but the notifications this week mean the city manager is moving forward with a budget proposal that makes deep cuts to community and recreation services in Salem while largely preserving funding for the police and fire department. 

The Salem Public Library would lose more employees than any other city department. Cuts there total eight full-time jobs and are expected to save the city $1.1 million.

Stahley said that “it is definitely a possibility” that the West Salem Branch of the public library would close as a result.

Fifteen people currently work on-call at the library, with no guaranteed hours, Deputy City Manager Scott Archer said. The vacant positions cut are a supervisor and a half-time senior library assistant.

The layoff notice follows several weeks of community advocacy for the library, with hundreds of people emailing city councilors urging them to preserve and restore library funding. A Sunday rally in support of the library drew about 100 people.

The budget still needs to be reviewed by the city’s budget committee and approved by the Salem City Council before employees lose their jobs. That process includes several months of public meetings. 

The budget committee is set to recommend the budget to the city council on May 8, followed by a public hearing on June 10 to consider any changes to the budget. The city council will have its final vote on the annual budget on June 24.

Eight of nine Salem city councilors, who also sit on the committee, told Salem Reporter they will not consider a budget that closes the library entirely, but many said they’d consider cuts.

Stahley’s list of cuts also calls for $400,000 in service reductions to Center 50+, $700,000 less spent on park operations, $400,000 cuts to recreation programs, and cutting $510,000 that pays for the city’s warming shelters and Safe Parking program.

That will mean fewer programs at the senior center and the elimination of many free city-sponsored activities in Salem parks, like Movies in the Park and First Friday concerts.

The list of proposed cuts has been public since September, but individual staff had not yet been told that their position was among the proposed cuts until Wednesday.

“As you can imagine, the atmosphere was heavy with sadness today. The cuts to the library are very real and imminent. It is not hypothetical, and it WILL impact the community in many detrimental ways. Every cut to hours and services mean less equitable service to our community,” senior librarian Jessica Marie, wrote in a Wednesday Facebook post sharing that her coworkers were informed their jobs are among the cuts.

Last week, City Librarian Bridget Esqueda told Salem Reporter in an email that the cuts would reduce services and increase wait times. 

“A library of this size and serving the population we do requires more staffing. Other comparable libraries with similar size, services, and circulation have minimum 64 people staffing the library working either part-time or full-time. After these reductions, the Salem Public Library will have only 30,” she said.

The cuts come as the city works to correct a projected budget deficit in the next year. That deficit will grow in the coming years if the city doesn’t cut spending or find new sources of revenue.

City councilors in February approved cutting more than 33 vacant city jobs to save about $4.7 million. Those cuts included five vacant police department positions, and another seven vacant library positions.

Stahley plans to share his proposed budget during an all-employee meeting Friday morning, April 12, and it will be posted on the city website later that day. He will then present the budget to the budget committee on April 17.

The city’s priority-based budgeting process ranks its over 100 programs, Stahley said, with police, fire and public safety programs generally at the top.

Departments that “tend to be more discretionary and less public safety involved are things like library, parks and recreation, Center 50+, youth services, neighborhoods, those things that are truly discretionary,” he said.

He said that ranking directs the budget decisions, and noted that the police department saw five positions cut in February. Without more revenue, the police department will see 12 positions cut in 2026, including 10 officers. A fire station would also also be closed, under the proposed plan. 

He told Salem Reporter that the city will continue to evaluate its ability to retain employees by hiring them in different city positions, but it will be difficult. 

“Frankly, when you’re in reduction mode, there’s not as many opportunities,” he said.

In addition to the proposed cuts, Stahley said the city would still need to spend $5 million of its savings next year.

“We’re balancing our budget using fund balance, which, obviously is not sustainable,” he said.

The city held its first revenue task force town hall to hear feedback and ideas on how to bring more money into the city on Wednesday, April 10. There will be a virtual town hall on April 16, and one on April 23 at Center 50+, 2615 Portland Road Northeast.

Kathy Knock, president of the AFSCME Local 2067 union, which represents Salem’s library workers, said in an email to Salem Reporter that the affected employees were informed Wednesday afternoon. 

“While I realize the budget must be balanced, the Library is unique in City services. Library programs cannot be created overnight. They cannot be shut down and reopened like a faucet. Once these programs are gone, it will take years to start them again. The Library is an investment in our future we cannot afford to shred,” she said.

Clarification: This article was updated to clarify the vacant positions included in library budget cuts, and the number of library employees impacted.

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.