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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh gets healthier; '13 budget up by 3%

| Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, 12:03 a.m.

Following a backlash over a plan to close, merge and relocate branches to save money, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is bigger and expanding services next year.

The Carnegie Library has kept all 19 regular branches open, started a “pop-up” branch in Allentown last month and expanded hours, thanks in large measure to a new library tax, gaming table revenues and improved fundraising.

On Monday, the system's board approved a 2013 budget of $28.7 million, which is 3 percent more than this year's $27.9 million budget.

Expanded services will enable patrons to download up to three songs a week to their iPod or MP3 and read digital stories from 300 magazines such as Newsweek, Rolling Stone or Good Housekeeping.

“The financial position of the library is stable at the moment, but we have a lot of work to do,” said Lou Testoni, chairman of the Carnegie Library board.

Testoni said that breathing room could change as Congress and President Obama debate ways to reduce the federal budget, including the continuation of charitable tax deductions for groups like the Carnegie Library.

“We don't know how the rest of the world will respond to what's going on in Washington, D.C.,” he said.

Because of financial problems three years ago, the library board had approved closing branches in Beechview, Hazelwood, Lawrence-ville and the West End; merging the Carrick and Knoxville branches; and moving the Mt. Washington Library.

After criticism from city officials and the public, the board in 2010 voted not to close the four branches or relocate the one in Mt. Washington. The board still has not made a decision on merging the branches in Carrick and Knoxville.

A library task force developed a strategy that included getting a dedicated library tax from city residents; regular increases from the Allegheny Regional Asset District, its main source of money; and more money from foundations, corporations and individuals.

There's a goal in the budget to increase private fundraising next year by 21 percent over the $1.2 million raised this year, said library spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes. That would raise its fundraising to about $1.35 million.

A referendum in 2011 overwhelmingly approved the new tax, which generated more than $2.8 million this year, Testoni said. RAD increased its support for the library's daily operations from $18.6 million to $19.1 million next year. The library hopes to develop a campaign next year to raise money for its endowment, now valued at about $10 million.

David Donahoe, executive director of RAD, noted that the real estate tax and table game revenues helped stabilize the library system financially.

“Between that and the gambling money, you're talking about $3.7 million that didn't exist. They've been very successful at implementing the strategy they put in place,” he said.

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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