Lake County considers closing library branches to address budget

Lake County considers closing library branches to address budget woes

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SORRENTO, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35 ORLANDO) - Lake County is facing a $15 million dollar budget shortfall.  There are a few ways to fill that hole, which include a millage rate increase, more taxes, or budget cuts.  In a budget presented county commissioners last week, the county manager recommended closing three library branches in Sorrento, Paisley, and Astor.
    
Many Sorrento residents are adamant about the need for that library to stay open. Mark Hill is a father who frequents the library often.

"People are here 24/7," he says.  "I come here, sometimes at 10 o'clock in the morning, and people are standing in line waiting to get in for Internet purposes; a lot of people can't afford Internet.  I get books for my daughters, myself, and I rent CD's and movies."

Genesis Caruso, 9, was returning a stack of books late Wednesday afternoon.  She said it was her summer reading and that this was the only library she knew.  The next nearest library is in Mount Dora, but that's a few miles away and too inconvenient for some.

Access to books, computers, summer reading programs, and even programs for autistic children, are among the many reasons people visit the 5,000-square-foot, modest structure in East Lake County.  Residents say this is more than a library, but rather a community focal point.  

"With the summer reading program, we have some 300 people come into the buidling," said Library Manager George Dore

The Sorrento branch has been open for 13 years and draws thousands of visitors every year.  It is a surprisingly busy place that has already been working to cut costs.  Elizabeth Steele runs the summer reading program and she was quick to show off her homemade "chalk board."  It's made of black paper that allows chalk to be easily erased.

As the county haggles over where to trim to the fat, it's up to people who live in  Lake County to make their voices heard.

County Commissioner Sean Parks says, "I see it, being out there with the residents. These are important aspects to the community and they want it in the budget; so we have to of course honor that."

In a budget outline presented to commissioners June 24 by county leaders, libraries in Groveland, Clermont, and Cagan Crossings would close the following year, and funding to libraries would be cut too.

Other departments face cuts, but there are also budget increases for some departments like the Sheriff's Office, and a three percent raise for county employees.

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