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Rendell: Budget woes hurt libraries

August 12, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

Rendell: Crescent Corridor initiative will pass

Rendell defends position in budget crisis

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell spoke about state budget negotiations at a Harrisburg-area library this week and highlighted the plight of libraries again when speaking with reporters in Antrim Township on Wednesday.

The governor used libraries as an example of why he feels it's important to continue negotiating a 2009-10 budget, rather than accept existing proposals like Senate Bill 850. Continuing efforts to negotiate might mean no state payments for libraries temporarily, but he says they could ultimately get better funding in a final spending plan.

"A lot of them are running out of money because they don't have state funding. But if I had signed 850, they would've had a 53 percent cut in their funding, which would've meant they'd have to curtail hours and lay off 1,000 people statewide," Rendell said, adding that Senate Bill 850 would slash library funding to an 11-year low.

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Bernice Crouse, executive director of the Franklin County Library System, said the system's libraries can continue to offer services during suspended payments, thanks largely to revenue generated by the county's library tax.

"We're making do," she said.

A $210,000 aid check would have arrived for the Franklin County Library System in July if not for the budget impasse.

"We have not seen a cent of that, of course," Crouse said.

The board of directors recently identified youth programs and job-related services as priorities, setting the direction for what will be the libraries' focus during belt-tightening. Several staff positions remain vacant after resignations and retirements. The system's renewal fees for things like online services are being deferred. Patrons' past-due fines might be increased.

"I'm trying to minimize the impact on the communities until we know for sure" what funding will be, Crouse said.

State payments total about $840,000 annually, Crouse said. The library system's yearly operating budget is $2.1 million, she said.

Crouse said endowments targeted for libraries produce noticeably less interest now, creating another financial hit for the system. Grants provided $30,000 income for 2009, but they represent just a fraction of what is applied for and they continue to disappear in the slumping economy.

Still, Crouse remains thankful for the library tax revenue and commitments from county, municipal and school district leadership. Other libraries across the state are closing.

"We're in a much better position locally," Crouse said.

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