From fights to thefts to destruction of property, the Westminster library made nearly 100 calls to city police last year.
Exasperated library officials turned to the Carroll County commissioners yesterday and asked for $26,000 to hire a security guard for the busiest branch in the five-branch system. The "unsafe environment" is taking a toll on staff and patrons, said Linda Mielke, library director.
Lois Leasure, Westminster branch manager, told the commissioners that she had broken up three fights in the past two months, one between two homeless adults. "We need somebody who can head things off at the pass," Leasure said.
Leasure told the commissioners she would like to see a guard constantly circulating in the building on Main Street and on the grounds from mid-afternoon until the 9 p.m. closing weekdays. The commissioners said they would make no decision until they could discuss sharing the cost with city officials.
"I don't mean to put the city on the spot, but its officers have responded to the library 263 times in the last two years," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich, who insisted on an open meeting to make the public aware of the problems. "The city should be brought into the discussion."
Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr. said: "This has got to be costing the city money. A partnership could benefit them."
Westminster Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff said yesterday that he is willing to discuss the problem, but that more money might not be the answer. From latchkey kids to the homeless who loiter at the library and on its grounds, problems are "a microcosm of societal issues," he said.
While young teen-agers, making their way home from two middle schools, have caused disturbances at the library, they are not the only cause of the complaints, library officials said.
"These are not your average kids we are talking about," said Leasure. "We have some fairly tough customers. Some of them even imply they will get even with us."
Tight budgets constrain the city and county. Ted Zaleski, county director of management and budget, said $26,000 annually "is not crippling." However, he finds it troubling that the request comes mid-year with the expectation it will be fulfilled.
"We are showing you that we have a problem with security and asking you to help us solve it," said Calvin Seitz, library board member. "This situation puts us in a tough spot."
Recently installed security measures have cut down on the thefts, but a security guard is vital to the safety at the Westminster branch, said Mielke. She has included a security guard's salary in her next budget, but she cannot wait until July 1 to hire one, she said.
The library's only discretionary funds are for the purchase of books and materials. Should the commissioners deny her request, Mielke's only recourse is to take the money from that account, she said.
"To take that money from everyone in the county for one branch does not seem right," she said. "We have identified this problem, and if we don't solve it soon, we could face liability issues."
Minnich, a frequent library patron, said he was convinced of the need. "The question is who has to spend the dollars to fix this," he said.
Dayhoff added: "The library plays an important role in downtown Westminster, and we certainly encourage its use. We also want to reassure the staff that we are responsive to their situation."