Described as a difficult decision brought about by financial realities, the Hardin County Public Library’s north branch in Radcliff is being closed permanently.
Library Director Rene Hutcheson said the library cannot afford to continue to operate, staff and maintain two separate facilities without a sustained increase in revenue.
“Since 2018, it has been a struggle to offer the same quality and quantity of services. We have reduced our hours at both branches and taken other measures to cut back expenditures,” Hutcheson said in a statement issued by the Library Board of Trustees. “With deferred maintenance, employee retirement costs, lack of state aid and increased costs of all library operations, the time has come where we must prioritize our services and make some hard decisions.”
The library board voted Thursday to permanently close the North Branch facility in Radcliff. The vote was 4-1 with Sue Story casting the lone dissenting vote. Voting to close were Marlane Youngblood, Will Flanagan, Suzanne Perla and Kevin Addington.
“The board is charged with making sure the library system is well managed, financially secure with well-maintained facilities and always looking toward future growth,” Youngblood said in the release announcing the closure.
The board has tried twice in the last five years tried to increase revenue with a library tax and failed, Addington said, primarily because of vocal opposition from some residents in the northern end of the county.
Hutcheson said the north branch served about 10,500 registered users. She said the number of library visits has been steadily declining the last five years. She noted, however, the 2020 statistics are skewed since the total annual hours open for both branches and the Outreach Department were down almost 37 percent compared to 2019 largely because of COVID-19 precautions.
The City of Radcliff Government Facebook page asked Aug. 25 in a post, “how often did you, or your family members, utilize the Radcliff branch of the Hardin County Public Library prior to COVID-19 and how often do you currently use the curbside service?”
The post was shared 23 times and had more than 160 comments.
Latisha Blizzard commented, “All of the time. Me and the kiddos were there almost every day.”
Stacy Frymire said, “We’re in Vine Grove and love having the Radcliff library so close. We cannot use the E’town location due to work hours.”
According to Hutcheson, the library plans to direct its resources to other areas and continue to provide service to residents in Radcliff, Vine Grove and Rineyville.
“This will be through our Outreach Department for now and in the future may be through deposit collections, satellite locations and continued partnerships with other agencies and schools,” she said.
After more than an hour of residents’ concerns and comments during a November 2018 Hardin Fiscal Court meeting, as well as discussion from magistrates, the bid to create a library taxing district that could have generated about $2 million a year failed to pass a first ordinance reading. The ordinance tied 4-4.
Magistrates Garry King, Doug Goodman, Roy Easter and Fred Clem voted against the ordinance for a property tax of 3 cents per $100 of assessed property value.
In October 2015, a possible tax was removed from consideration without a vote by Judge-Executive Harry Berry, who said the measure did not have necessary support to be approved.
Addington said the cost to operate and maintain the branch is not a responsible use of their limited resources and the board must think and act for the good of all Hardin County, not just one portion of it.
Perla, a resident of Radcliff, said, “the branch requires two staff members to be present at all times and that the branch has not been widely used according to the circulation and usage statistics.”
This summer with reduced hours and services related to COVID, Perla said statistics showed many North Branch patrons using the main library in Elizabethtown both in-person and for curbside service.
“With looming major repairs needed at the Elizabethtown facility, it is more practical and economically feasible to consolidate our library operations under one facility,” she said.
Hutcheson said the largest repair facing the main library is a new roof. She said it was estimated the roof would be needed during last fiscal year.
“So we are on borrowed time and it continues to leak and cause moisture problems in the children’s department especially,” she said.
Hutcheson said Tuesday will be the last day for library services at the North Branch. The Radcliff staff will begin preparing books and materials to be moved to the main facility and then will join the main staff.
During this time of transition, the release said the library will use the local newspaper, radio stations, their library website and social media to inform patrons of services and hours.
For the time being, returns still can be made through the book drop at the North Branch.
Hutcheson said she is not sure what will happen with the building. She said that likely will be a decision for Hardin Fiscal Court.
Leaders in Radcliff and Vine Grove are “disappointed” and “mad” about the board’s decision to close the North Branch.
Radcliff Mayor J.J. Duvall and Vine Grove Mayor Pam Ogden said they reached out to Hutcheson earlier this month to schedule a meeting to discuss the library. He said they were told they would have to wait two weeks, and then a week later the board voted to close the branch.
Duvall said they did not notify him or Ogden of the pending decision.
“We’re both disheartened that we try to set up a meeting to have discussion and then a week later it closes. ... It’s very disappointing that this decision was made with no public input or discussion with leadership from the community,” he said.
“We couldn’t operate the same way as a government entity in closing Colvin Community Center without any kind of public input or discussion. ... We’re 23,000 people and we’re just as important as everywhere else and our residents continue to see services removed from our community that are out of control of our city government.”