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Libraries could feel budget squeeze

March 13, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Last year the Franklin County Library System received $830,000 in direct state aid to spend on the network's eight local libraries, the director of the system said Tuesday.

Next year, if Gov. Ed Rendell's proposed budget stands, starting July 1, state money coming to Franklin County libraries will be half that, said Bernice Crouse, the system's executive director.

The state House of Representatives passed Rendell's budget last week. The state Senate approved the budget Wednesday with no additional money set aside for state libraries.

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Crouse said the $415,000 that Rendell's budget plans to cut from the local allocation represents about one-fourth of the system's annual $1.75 million budget.

The system also receives $580,000 a year from local library taxes. Last year the system's annual fund drive raised $60,000, Crouse said.

The Franklin County network includes the Coyle and Ragged Edge libraries in Chambersburg; Alexander Hamilton Memorial Free Library in Waynesboro, Pa.; Lilian S. Besore Memorial Library in Greencastle, Pa.; and smaller libraries in Fort Loudon, St. Thomas and Blue Ridge Summit, Pa. It also includes the countywide bookmobile.

Fendrick Library in Mercersburg, Pa., is independent and not part of the countywide network.

The system has about 60 employees, half of whom work full time, Crouse said. If the governor's cuts go through, some jobs will have to be eliminated, she said.

"If the cuts come to pass, Pennsylvania public libraries will be dead in the water, unable to maintain the services which the public has become attached to in recent years," Crouse said.

"Public libraries are the frontier where everyone can improve themselves, where even the poorest resident can find relaxation or education. When jobs and funding are cut, people turn to the public library to meet their needs," she said.

The budget cuts would mean less money for the libraries' collections, less public access to computers and Internet services, cutbacks in summer and special children's programs and the inability to add needed space to the Ragged Edge Road facility and a new roof at the Coyle Free Library, Crouse said.

"This would really be a blow to us," she said.

The governor returns to the Legislature March 25 to present the second phase of his budget. Pennsylvania is facing a $2 billion budget deficit.

Fleagle said some of Rendell's proposed budget cuts, including those for the state's libraries, may be restored in the second go-around.

"We in the Legislature want to see a balanced budget without a tax hike," he said. "This budget is particularly hard to bear. Most departments took a 10 percent cut."

Fleagle said former Gov. Tom Ridge put enormous amounts of money into libraries and that Rendell may want to do the same. He said he encourages residents to call their representatives and lobby for library funding.

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