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Alders and New Haven residents have begun voicing their concerns about the “Crisis Budget” Mayor Justin Elicker proposed on March 1 — namely, the closing of Mitchell Branch Library, East Shore Senior Center and the Whitney Avenue fire station.
Westville Ward 26 Alder Darryl Brackeen Jr. hosted a town hall last Friday to answer the concerns of New Haven residents about the potential closing of Mitchell Branch Library. Under Elicker’s budget proposal, Mitchell Branch Library, East Shore Senior Center and the Whitney Avenue fire station would need to close if New Haven does not receive an additional $53 million in funding from the state and Yale, according to Elicker.
During the town hall, Brackeen emphasized his own personal connections to the library, while telling attendees that he would stand firmly against its closing. Brackeen shared a schedule for public hearings and budget workshops that residents can attend in the coming weeks to voice their concerns about the Crisis Budget.
“It is my hope to work with the finance committee … to ensure that the Mitchell Library is indeed saved,” said Brackeen. “There’s no way that I’m going to sit by and allow such an institution and jewel to be taken away from my children.”
John Jessen, the director of Mitchell Branch Library, told the News that he is “cautiously optimistic” that the library will not have to close. He pointed out that closing the library would be disastrous because in New Haven, there are large inequalities in access to internet and technology among the community — making the computers at all public libraries crucial. Brackeen echoed these sentiments, adding that it provides Wi-Fi, safety and community to residents of the city.
“The beauty of the public library [is that] it’s a democratic institution for every type of person from the population, whoever that might be,” said Jessen. “A public library is important for everyone in the community.”
The library, located in Westville, is one of five main public libraries in the city. According to a press release last year, the New Haven Free Public Library System — which includes Ives Memorial Library, Fair Haven, Stetson, Wilson and Mitchell — welcomes 900,000 visitors annually.
Mehul Dalal, the city’s community services administrator, directs the Elderly Services Department. He told the News that the East Shore Senior Center — a community programming center for seniors — was proposed for closure because out of New Haven’s three senior centers, it had the lowest event participation by nearly half prior to the pandemic.
According to the New Haven Register, East Shore Senior Center had 3,006 visits during the 2019-20 fiscal year, as compared to the 6,025 and 5,193 visits at the Atwater and Dixwell centers respectively. Despite that, Dalal said it plays a crucial role for those that depend on its services.
“The East Shore Senior Center plays a vital role in the community providing essential services including meals, classes, trips, and most importantly an opportunity for seniors to stay socially connected,” said Dalal in a statement to the News. “Nevertheless, we remain optimistic that the State and Yale University will come through helping us to avoid [closure].”
Ward 25 Alder Adam Marchand GRD ’99 suggested that New Haven and its “nonprofit partners” need “a new deal.” He also said that Elicker has sent a delegation to negotiate with Yale and ask the University to increase its voluntary, annual contributions to the city.
Both Alder Brackeen and Marchand emphasized the importance of public testimony from residents about the planned closings. They noted that there will be two more public hearings for residents to voice thoughts, concerns and suggestions to the Finance Committee. Emails, calls and live testimonies during public hearings will all go on the record and be taken into consideration during the decision-making process.
Testimony can be communicated to firstname.lastname@example.org, (203) 946-6483 or during public hearings.
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