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County libraries brace for worst of state cuts

August 26, 2003|by DON AINES

Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series on how state budget cuts have affected everyday services in Franklin County, Pa. On Wednesday, part 2 examines how the cuts have affected social services.




chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Hours, staff time and purchases have been reduced at Franklin County libraries as a result of deep cuts in state funding, a situation that may or may not be resolved when the Pennsylvania General Assembly reconvenes next month.

While state government cut subsidies in half, state standards remain unchanged, said Bernice Crouse, executive director of the Franklin County Library System.

To receive state money, Coyle Free Library in Chambersburg must be open 65 hours a week because it is a system headquarters and district center, Crouse said. The library no longer is open Sunday afternoons, reducing its hours to 651/2 a week.

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Hours have been cut at Ragged Edge Library in Guilford Township, Pa., which is opening 30 minutes later each morning, and at the Lilian S. Besore Library in Greencastle, Pa., which is closed Wednesday nights.

Both of those libraries are open 55 hours a week. Crouse said state standards allow them to operate only 20 hours, but that would be unacceptable to patrons.

Libraries also will be closed Saturday, and other holiday weekend closings are possible.

The system includes libraries in St. Thomas and Fort Loudon, Pa., whose hours are unaffected. The five libraries had more than 271,000 visits last year, Crouse said.

Earlier this year, Gov. Ed Rendell proposed and the Legislature approved the 50-percent cut in library funding. As a district center, Coyle received a payment of $105,000 in July, compared with $210,000 in 2002.

So far, Crouse said, the libraries have cut $40,000 in staffing, new materials, equipment, furnishings and other costs while trying to maintain all programs.

"We have only cut part-time people part of their hours," she said.

Another state standard requires libraries to spend 12 percent of their budgets on new books, magazines and other materials. Crouse said purchases have been cut to the limit.

Unless funding is restored, cuts will hit hard in January and March when libraries receive their other payments. County libraries got $830,000 in state funds in 2002-03.

This year's budget of $1.7 million has been trimmed to about $1.6 million because of the reduced July payment.

"It's tough this year, but it's going to get a lot tougher next year," Crouse said.

"I can almost guarantee it won't be full funding, but the goal will be to get back as close to 100 percent as possible," State Rep. Patrick Fleagle, R-Franklin, said last week. He said the priority of the Legislature will be public education funding, the major unresolved portion of the state budget.

"I think it's 50-50 at best," State Rep. Jeff Coy, D-Franklin, said about chances of restoring funding. "I wouldn't, if I were the libraries, plan on spending the money yet, but I remain hopeful."

If cuts remain in effect, the system may look for more county support. The county has a .6-mill real estate tax dedicated to the system, which generated $580,000 in 2002.

"The taxpayers have already met their obligation," County Commissioner Cheryl Plummer said.

Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania recently voted unanimously to "demand" the state restore funding to libraries and human service programs.

Franklin County libraries get assistance from other sources, such as Friends of Coyle.

"We buy things the library board can't afford and feel they shouldn't have to buy," said Friends member Elizabeth Weller.

That includes paying for everything from carpet sweepers to books and guest speakers, said Anne Gale, a member of Friends and the county library system board.

Crouse said Coyle also received an anonymous donation of $45,000 to replace its leaking roof. Plans to replace the cramped Ragged Edge Library with a larger building are on hold.

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