The Kelly administration will ask state legislators to put the Chattanooga Public Library under the mayor rather than a library board.
Brent Goldberg, chief financial officer, said the administration will "take a top-down approach" to library improvements.
He said, "We do support the library staff and the programs they offer," but he said improvements are needed.
Councilman Ken Smith said council members were advised that library programming had dropped from 65,000 in 2019 to less than 15,000 currently. He questioned whether staff reductions were needed in line with the service drops "when you have attendance that is four to five times less than it once was."
Library officials said the programming numbers related to "those before the pandemic and those during the pandemic when our services were limited due to city guidelines. The pre-pandemic visitors totaled 433,870 in fiscal year 2019 versus our current total in fiscal year 2022 (with limited capacity) at 217,635."
Raquetta Dotley, council vice chair, said, "I do support the library, but not in its current form." She agreed that it should become "a department of the city."
Councilwoman Marvene Noel, who has been the most outspoken on library concerns, said she had not been given specific information she requested on library programs and the number of those currently being served.
Councilman Chip Henderson said, "I would like to see measurable impacts given the amount of money they receive." The requested library budget is $7.3 million.
He said, "I don't feel we are getting the maximum efficiency out of the downtown library given the type of money they receive, and that's a shame."
Councilman Henderson said he did not know whether legislators would go along with the requested change. He said, if not, the city could make some new appointments to the existing board.
Councilwoman Carol Berz said she was confident the legislators will agree to the new setup. She said, "This needs to be done."
Mr. Goldberg said the city is recommending approval of the current library spending request, but will be closely studying the agency in future budgets. He said the requested increase of $181,000 was to go toward three percent pay increases for library employees.