Trafford library turn-around plot depends on fundraisers
A year after the Trafford Community Public Library nearly closed, library officials say the nonprofit organization's finances have stabilized, as they prepare for their biggest fundraiser of the year.
But they acknowledge the library could face a new challenge to its budget in the spring if the Penn-Trafford School Board decides to reduce its annual contribution as part of a formula to provide a stipend for the Manor Public Library for the first time.
When the library board meets this month, members say, the main discussion topics are expected to be efforts to promote the River City Brass' Nov. 16 concert at Trafford Middle School that will raise money for the library and the possibility of losing some of the $4,000 the school board typically has given to the library.
It's a big change from a year ago, when library officials were considering the possibility of shutting the organization down after serving the borough for five decades.
“We're holding our own, and we hope to continue that way,” said Steve Perovich, acting library board president. “We're off life support, and I'm sure we're off critical condition, so we're stabilized now.”
A year ago, the future of the library appeared to be bleak. Operating hours were reduced, volunteers staffed the library because there wasn't money to pay part-time director Sharon Peacock, and the Westmoreland County Federated Library System temporarily cut Trafford patrons' access to the countywide database of books and electronic materials.
Former library board president Tom Puckey went to a Trafford Council meeting in September 2012 to reveal that the organization had less than $300. One month later, library officials reported a $3,832 deficit in a 2011 budget to the Internal Revenue Service, according to a tax form posted on the GuideStar website.
Board members say the library rebounded because it received a grant of an undisclosed amount from the Pittsburgh-based Eden Hall Foundation in November. That came after borough council's decision to cover the costs of the library's telephone and Internet service, which resulted in an estimated $2,200 in annual savings for the library.
This year, the library is working on a budget of about $50,000, board treasurer Judy Ference said. She estimates the library probably will end the year with about $9,000 in its operating fund.
“I think we're pretty stable,” said Ference, a retired math teacher. “We have enough to pay everything, but we still rely on fundraisers and donations.”
More help came in the form of a $2,500 grant from council for the library's summer reading program this year. That was a $1,500 increase from the borough's customary yearly contribution in recent years.
The funding helped to boost interest in the summer program, Peacock said. Now, she is starting a weekly fall story-time program on Thursdays, starting today, at 1 p.m.
“I'm hoping that people realize that we're open all the time, not just in the summer,” Peacock said.
Library board secretary Matt Bauman said officials are trying to generate more fundraising ideas, such as partnering with restaurants so a portion of patrons' bills for a particular day would be designated for the library. The first effort, at Papa Rocks Pizza Pub in Monroeville in April, raised about $240, he said.
“We'll definitely be trying to get as much help as we still can,” Bauman said. “That's really what the libraries run off — grants and stuff like that. When funding is cut, it's more difficult for us.”
Board members have high hopes for next month's concert, which they plan to begin promoting soon. As Bauman said, the River City Brass, a 28-piece ensemble, has a “pretty big following” in western Pennsylvania.
The district's review of funding for local libraries sprung from the Manor Public Library's request to receive a contribution. In recent years, the district annually has given $8,000 to the Penn Area Library and $4,000 to Trafford's library.
But Manor Councilwoman Christine Marchand, chairwoman of the borough's library and recreation committee, said she wrote to the school board in December 2012 because Manor library officials thought the borough's residents who live in Penn-Trafford were being left out.
Though the borough's records show that about three-fourths of taxpayers are in Penn-Trafford and the rest are in the Hempfield Area School District, the Manor library receives no money from P-T, Marchand said.
Last month, school board members said they are considering dividing the $12,000 they typically have reserved for local libraries in their $49-million budget according to the registration of children for programs at the libraries.
“We never intended to say, ‘Hey, give us so-and-so's money,'” Marchand said. “We just thought we were overlooked. We're grateful for anything we get.”
Perovich, who teaches at Trafford Middle School, said the Trafford library board wants to emphasize to school officials that the Trafford library serves adults, too, not just students.
“It's hard to say what might happen there,” Perovich said. “We've got to present our case, and we have to hope they know where we're coming from.”
At this point, school officials haven't finalized how the funding might be broken down, but school board member P. Jay Tray acknowledged that Trafford's library could be “at a disadvantage.”
Board members appear to be more interested in awarding money on an incentive basis according to the children's program registrations instead of the percentage of the district's students living in a municipality, he said.
“We're not making a funding determination until May,” Tray said.
Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.