CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charlotte Mecklenburg Library trustees said Monday the county should aim to provide up to $2.5 million more to the library system next year, money that could increase hours at regional branches and prevent further sites from closing.

They also agreed the library should move ahead with plans to merge its human resources and information technology systems with the county, a step expected to yield only minimal savings initially, but could help the departments run more efficiently.

The library board met to hear the findings of a committee that sorted through recommendations of the Future of the Library Task Force, a citizens group that laid out ideas for how the system should run and be funded going forward.

County commissioners will consider the report at their meeting tonight, though won't formally approve money for the library until they adopt a budget in June.

The committee of county commissioners and library trustees unanimously approved the task force recommendations, after tweaking a few of their ideas.

Among the changes: The task force said the county should give money to the library on a per-capita basis according to county population, and at a level comparable to 13 of its peers around the nation.

Mecklenburg provided nearly $21.1 million to the libraries this year, or $25.84 per resident, the task force said. The other systems, meanwhile, receive $27.89 to $28.66 per capita.

The joint county-library committee said the county should use the per-capita levels as a benchmark, rather than a hard-and-fast rule, as commissioners weigh next year's budget, said library trustees Vice Chair Bob Sink.

The task force said increasing the amount of money sent to the library could allow it to keep open 20 branches, while also letting officials increase hours at the regional branches. Currently, the regional branches are open four days a week.

The task force said the library should still increase the regional branch hours without an increase in funding. But that would require shifting staff and closing up to six branches. The group did not list what branches would close, but told the library to protect three branches - Scaleybark, Sugar Creek and West Boulevard - in fragile neighborhoods.

The county-library committee agreed generally with the recommendation, but removed the provision about fragile neighborhoods. Instead, that group recommended looking at a variety of criteria such as the economic and educational attainment of the community surrounding a branch, the distance to a regional library and usage.

Also Monday, the library trustees backed a plan to consolidate more of its operations with the county. The county took over security and building maintenance of the library system this year, and officials from both sides agreed to study other potential mergers.

The study recommended consolidating the human resources and information technology areas. The merger would eliminate two positions in HR, but those employees could apply for other jobs, said library CEO Vick Phillips. Other employees would keep their jobs, but most would become county employees.

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