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Carnegie Library administrators explore 5-year plan with no drastic cuts

| Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, 7:54 p.m.

As publicly funded institutions across the country struggle with budget cuts, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh — no stranger to financial turmoil — is about to adopt a five-year financial and development plan that contains no drastic cuts.

Carnegie President and Director Mary Frances Cooper said Saturday that she doesn't expect major cuts or changes with the 2013 budget.

“We are always very careful and prudent,” Cooper said after about 25 people attended a presentation on the plan at the library system's East Liberty branch. “We're working hard to keep costs in line.”

The report, generated after community meetings, contains plenty of ideas but is short on specifics for the 19-branch system that employs nearly 500 full- and part-time workers.

The report recommends implementing a corporate-giving strategy, starting an endowment campaign and other fundraising efforts. Library board President Louis Testoni said Friday that he couldn't talk about an endowment campaign yet, but said, “It will be something (the library system) will be working on more robustly” once the five-year plan is implemented.

“We're always looking to expand the diversity of our funding,” Testoni said.

In 2009, in light of state funding budget cuts, the board began offering employees early retirement, freezing salaries and hiring, and cutting hours at branches, though it scrapped plans to close several branches when the city provided emergency funding. Cooper said some employees took the retirement package, but said on Saturday that he doesn't know the number.

Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, said Saturday that increased funding isn't the answer and that the board should look at a reorganization of the system.

“I'm not sure they've addressed their underlying problem of having too many libraries,” Haulk said. “If people are not going to the library, then maybe they need to eliminate so many full-service branches.”

Most of the new plan, Testoni and Cooper said, lacks specifics because the ideas had to come first.

“We're making sure we are directionally in the right area before we fill in the rest — the goals and places we know where we can get revenues and partnerships,” Testoni said.

There will be a link Monday on the library's website — carnegielibrary.org — to allow final comment on the plan. Testoni said the board will vote on the plan in October.

Under the plan, the library system would implement recommendations from a 2011 Public Private Task Force on Sustainable Funding, including developing tax-incentive programs for corporate and individual donors and finding new funding sources.

Cooper said preliminary numbers for Allegheny Regional Asset District funding should be available later this month, with final approval in November. After that, the library board can vote on a final 2013 budget in December. The general operating budget this year is $27.8 million.

For 2013, the library is asking for $22.3 million in RAD money, or about a 5 percent increase over 2012's funding. The library faces flat state funding at about $3 million, Cooper added.

In November 2011, Pittsburgh residents approved a referendum that levied a 0.25-mill property tax that was expected to generate more than $3 million each year for the library. Cooper said the library has received about 94 percent of that tax money budgeted for 2012.

The money was used to keep libraries open all weekdays and after school, Cooper said, and it also will help with building improvements. Once improvements are completed, Cooper said, that money eventually will go toward the system's general fund.

“We're being very careful with money to make sure we don't overspend, or add costs that'll add layers to additional costs in the future,” Testoni said.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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