Universal Allegheny County library support gets a push

| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Across Allegheny County, 23 of the 24 communities that lack their own libraries don't provide funding to nearby libraries that their residents may visit.

Those figures in a report titled “21st Century Library Service in Allegheny County” highlight the tension between communities that pay for libraries and those that don't contribute.

“Some municipalities, even though they are able, provide no direct support for library service,” the report by a panel of library officials and community leaders said. “Residents may be reluctant to provide any additional resources for libraries until all municipalities in Allegheny County are supporting library service at a fair and equitable rate.”

The panel urged library officials to look at ways to get more money. One idea being considered is some kind of countywide library tax, said Marilyn Jenkins, executive director of the Allegheny County Library Association.

Residents visiting local libraries had mixed reactions.

“It depends on the resources of the community,” said Alisa Nash, 51, of Mt. Lebanon during a visit to the Sewickley Public Library.

But Beth Logan, 36, of McCandless opposed the idea. “We pay enough taxes. I don't like that,” she said on a visit to the Northland Public Library in McCandless.

Rebecca Long, director of the South Fayette and Bridgeville libraries, said a countywide tax might help libraries put a value on their services. If there is such a tax, she said, it should somehow account for contributions that many communities already make toward libraries.

Ohio Township, Verona and Collier are among the communities that lack their own libraries. But many Ohio Township residents go to Sewickley and Northland, Verona residents to the Oakmont Carnegie Library and Collier residents to the Bridgeville Library, run by South Fayette, and the Andrew Carnegie Free Library in Carnegie, library officials said.

“All these communities that don't support libraries need a little nudge,” said Carolyn Toth, director of the Sewickley Public Library. “We would be even better libraries.”

West Mifflin lacks a library, but in 2012 allocated $2,000 to Carnegie Library of Homestead, the report said.

Based on circulation figures, the county's libraries saved taxpayers in Collier $237,240 a year for books and other materials the township did not have to buy, Jenkins said, citing 2011 figures.

She said Ohio Township taxpayers saved $447,640 and those in Verona, $248,840. That doesn't count residents' uses of other library programs.

“If you're getting a lot of use from people outside that community, that stretches the local dollar,” she said.

Amy Steele, executive director of Northland, said use by patrons from communities that don't support libraries forces her library to buy more materials. Also, residents of communities that contribute may not be able to enroll in some popular library programs, because spaces are filled in part by others, she said.

“In general, it increases our usage without providing additional funding to support that use, so in a way it limits what we can do,” Steele said.

Collier Manager Salvatore M. Sirabella said the growing township might contribute later to the Bridgeville or Carnegie libraries, but it now is focused on developing its park system.

David Ricupero, mayor of Verona, said no library has asked his borough for a donation. He said Verona contributes to other causes, such as food programs.

“We can't reach out to everybody,” he said.

Ohio Township Manager John Sullivan said that township has not considered contributing to a library. “Under the Regional Asset District, we have the right to use those libraries,” he said.

The Allegheny Regional Asset District allocated $24 million of the $55 million spent by libraries in Pittsburgh and suburban Allegheny County in 2012, the library report said.

That makes RAD the biggest source of money, at 44 percent. RAD supports parks, libraries, stadiums and cultural groups with half of the proceeds of Allegheny County's 1 percent sales tax.

Local government accounts for another 24 percent of library money; fines, fees and fundraising, 18 percent; state aid, 10 percent, and the rest comes from table gaming revenue and other sources.

Libraries recognize that RAD and the Pennsylvania Department of Education specify they must accommodate all patrons, if they accept RAD and state money.

“We welcome the good citizens of Verona, because our world doesn't end at Oakmont,” said Chuck Erdeljac, chairman of the board of the Oakmont Library.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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