Some Norfolk libraries and rec centers may not open for months to save money under approved budget


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Libraries and recreation centers are reopening across the state following coronavirus related closures, but in Norfolk — to fend off coronavirus-related financial fallout — some facilities could be closed the rest of the year.

At the end of March, the city furloughed 550 part-time city workers in response to the governor’s “stay-at-home” order, that closed all city buildings to the public. Most of the employees were recreation center specialists and librarians according to Wynter Benda, Norfolk’s chief deputy city manager.

The hope was that the furloughs — coupled with a hiring freeze and other spending cuts — would also help make up for the expected loss in revenue the city was expecting from COVID-19. The city’s fiscal year runs until June 30, so the city manager’s office proposed keeping the cuts in place until then.

The problem is, City Council members say constituents are getting antsy.

Under phase 2 of Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D-Va.) reopening plan, recreation centers can open up at 30 percent their capacity. Libraries were never closed by the state, to begin with.

“Norfolk is choosing to not open up the libraries, not the governor … I want to make that clear. The governor never closed the libraries,” Councilman Tommy Smigiel said during a virtual council meeting last week. “People are paying taxes so they want their services back open.”

Council members Andria McClellan and Courtney Doyle also said they have received numerous requests about when people will be able to physically walk in a library again.

When city council passed their $886-million FY 2020-21 budget in May, they approved only opening the city’s three anchor libraries — Slover Library in downtown, Pretlow Library in Ocean View and Jordan-Newby in Broad Creek — to continue to save cash.

The remaining nine would open once the economy would begin to recover.

A similar approach was taken for the city’s 18 recreational centers. Only five will open up initially: East Ocean View Recreation Center, Norview Community Center, Lambert’s Point Community Center, Berkley Community Center, and Huntersville Community Center.

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