In a Friday afternoon emergency meeting, the Birmingham Public Library board of trustees voted unanimously to furlough 158 of the system’s 211 employees. The cutbacks were a response to city budget cuts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to Mayor Randall Woodfin’s recommendation to cut the library’s budget to less than half of last year’s amount.
The furloughs will be effective Sept. 25. Of the 158 furloughed employees, 91 are full-time and 67 are part-time employees.
Most of Friday afternoon’s meeting took place in a 90-minute, private executive session. The board did not reveal which employees would be furloughed or which library branches would be closed as a result.
Woodfin told board members in a private call earlier this week that his recommended library budget for FY 2021 had been cut to $6.2 million, far less than last year’s $15.3 million budget and less than the $12.8 million in Woodfin’s initial FY 2021 budget proposal.
The library has already spent $2.6 million since the fiscal year started July 1, meaning it has $3.6 million left to spend between Oct. 1 and June 30.
Woodfin’s office initially had sent out furlough letters to most library employees, though the library board argued that this was their prerogative, not his. Woodfin yielded, but he warned board members earlier this week that if they did not furlough employees, “The city will be forced to have to make some hard decisions, such as removing worker’s comp insurance and other matters that would have to come into play that can help the deficit.”
Board members say that their decision to furlough employees had been delayed by uncertainty surrounding their budget; they did not receive an exact amount from Woodfin until Sept. 16.
The library already has closed its Eastwood branch; more closures as a result of the furloughs are expected to follow.