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State books a better deal for Pa. libraries

July 09, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The 2004-05 Pennsylvania budget restores some of the funding to public libraries that was cut last year, but patrons of the Franklin County Public Library System should not expect some services to be restored until 2005.

In 2002-03, state funding for the system was more than $800,000, but fell to $527,000 in 2003-04, according to Bernice Crouse, director of the library system. Funding has been raised to about $644,000 in the budget year that went into effect on July 1, she said.

"When all was said and done, it was 35 percent," Crouse said of the 2003-04 cut. "The original proposal was a 50 percent cut."

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The state budget approved last week set funding for libraries at $57.9 million, a $10.1 million increase over the previous year, according to figures supplied by state Rep. Patrick Fleagle, R-Franklin. Each library system receives a 20 percent increase, according to the figures.

That means the county library system is to get 85 percent of the state funding it received two years ago, according to Crouse.

The system includes the Coyle Free Library in Chambersburg, the Lilian Besore Library in Greencastle, Pa., and the Ragged Edge Library in Guilford Township, as well as small libraries in St. Thomas, Pa., and Fort Loudon, Pa., Crouse said.

Because of last year's cuts, the system cut 30 hours of library operations a week at the Coyle, Besore and Ragged Edge libraries and 250 hours a week of staff time. Full-time employees saw hours cut from 371/2 to 35, part-time employees lost three to five hours and three full-time positions were cut to part time, Crouse said.

"We wanted to divide the impact up so no one was singled out for a hit," said Crouse. Bookmobile service, one of the highest circulating in the state, also was reduced, she said.

"We're getting hit financially two ways by the state," said Crouse.

The state last year did not use a formula that adjusts funding based on population, local and county funding and achieving state library standards and will not use it this year, she said.

County funding, based on a dedicated real estate tax assessed in most of the county's 22 municipalities, has increased to about $625,000 and Crouse said the county's legislative delegation in Harrisburg, Pa., fought against last year's cuts and in favor of increased funding this year.

The library system runs on a calendar year budget, which means the state cuts did not kick in until July 2003. The county library budget in 2002 was $1.7 million, fell to $1.6 million in 2003 and is $1.4 million this year, Crouse said.

The cuts came just months before the system began a capital campaign to raise approximately $2.5 million to build a new Ragged Edge Library, she said.

Crouse said the system receives its largest infusion of state cash in January, at which time some services may be restored. That includes possibly increasing some hours of operation, staff hours and the purchase of new materials.

"People need to let us know what their highest priorities are for restoring services ... Their priorities are our priorities," she said.

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