Armstrong County's libraries in a funding bind
By Brigid Beatty
Published: Friday, June 28, 2013, 12:27 a.m.
Times are tough for area libraries.
State budget cuts and public debate on funding at the local level have continued to worry supporters of public libraries in Armstrong County — particularly in the Worthington West-Franklin area and in North Apollo and Apollo.
So far, the libraries have carried on, meeting a multitude of needs within their communities. They provide free access to computers and an entire spectrum of literacy materials. And they continue to function as community social hubs, offering classes and activities for all age groups.
However, some taxpayers have objected to dedicated support of their library through property tax dollars.
During the May primary, voters in Worthington and West Franklin rejected a 1-mill tax hike to support the Worthington-West Franklin Community Library.
In Worthington, out of a total of 138 votes, 94 voted no for supporting the library. Only 44 voted in support of it. In West Franklin, 279 out of 382 voters opposed supporting the library, with 103 voting yes to the question of supporting it.
“We were deeply disappointed in the result,” said Timi Kost, library director of the Worthington-West Franklin Library.
The library board will meet July 2 to discuss what the vote will mean for the the library.
“We have to sit down and reorganize our budget and see what kind of accommodations or adaptations can be made,” she said.
One positive thing that came out of the referendum campaign, said Kost, was that it gave the library some visual exposure and motivated new members to join.
According to Wendy Buzard, county election director, the issue cannot be placed on the ballot again for at least five years.
The question of taxpayers supporting their local library has been the subject of recent debate between North Apollo Council and Apollo Memorial Library officials and supporters.
Taxpayers in North Apollo and Apollo pay a 0.75-mill tax to support the library — which brought in around $24,396 in funding in 2012.
Now North Apollo officials want to end the tax that supports the library and have prepared a petition to get a referendum question on the Nov. 5 ballot.
If the Apollo Memorial Library lost support from North Apollo, that would mean an annual loss of about $13,000 (based on 2012 property tax revenue), said Library Director Tina Zins.
“We would have to cut our operating hours from five days to three,” Zins said.
Zins said she plans to attend the next North Apollo Council meeting on July 1 and is hopeful there will be plenty of library supporters there.
“Our whole board will be there to clarify things and to answer questions,” she said.
Zins said she knows small towns are struggling in the present economic climate but added that she “hopes people understand what kind of asset we are to the community.”
Ford City Public Library Director Anita Bowser said Thursday that the issue facing Apollo Library makes her nervous.
“Apollo Library is a big player in our group. I would hate to see them lose funding,” Bowser said. “Our board is concerned. It doesn't bode well for libraries.”
Ford City, Apollo, Kittanning and Worthington libraries make up the Armstrong Public Libraries Group.
Bowser said state funding for public libraries was cut several years ago. For Ford City Library, that has meant a decrease from around $21,000 to its current annual amount of $13,000.
As a result, the library survives for the most part on the 1-mill tax support it receives from borough property owners. That translates to about $29,000 in tax revenue every year, said Bowser.
“Borough taxpayers are doing their part and are our most stable resource,” she said.
Yet, she added, the library has experienced a domino effect from budget cuts affecting other area programs, like the county's Area Agency on Aging. That agency has provided the library with skilled senior workers. But now their hours have been reduced because of decreased funding, said Bowser.
Bowser noted that the library has members from outside the area who pay a membership fee.
However, she said: “If we had to rely on that, we could not function.”
In Kittanning Public Library on Thursday, director Beth Milanak and assistant Linda Cunningham took a moment to regroup after the morning's summer reading program.
The library had just been the scene of a treasure hunt with 65 children participating.
“It's not just about books,” said Cunningham.
Milanak agreed, noting the staff had opened up a lot of space to accommodate programs like the one that had just taken place.
And on that particular day at the public computer stations, every available seat was filled.
The library receives a total of about $20,000 annually in local government support from Kittanning Borough ($16,000), West Kittanning ($3,177) and Applewold ($600), said Cunningham.
“If we would lose any of that funding, we'd have to go out and find other sources of income,” said Milanak. “We're barely making it now.”
Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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