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State money brings relief to Westmoreland libraries

Jacob Tierney
| Friday, March 18, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
The Greensburg Hempfield Area Library on March 17, 2016.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
The Greensburg Hempfield Area Library on March 17, 2016.

Westmoreland County libraries are breathing a sigh of relief after receiving state funds last month as part of the stopgap spending plan passed in lieu of a full state budget, but some are still dealing with shaky finances and the murky fiscal future.

“We were biting our fingernails, but we were OK,” said Linda Matey, director of the Greensburg Hempfield Area Library.

The state sent $956,920 to be distributed among Westmoreland County's 24 libraries. Most libraries received their money in February, about a month later than usual.

The state also gave $276,695 to the Westmoreland Federated Library System, the over-arching network that provides services and support for the libraries. These funds were usually paid in July and arrived about six months late.

“It was a huge relief, because we all had to make contingency plans on what to do, and how to handle it. There were a lot of libraries that would have run out of money,” said Cesare Muccari, executive director of the library network.

The delays caused by the state budget impasse meant some libraries were unable to plan fully for this year, officials said.

“That made January kind of an uncomfortable month,” said Tracy Trotter, director of Adams Memorial Library in Latrobe.

The library's board didn't approve raises for any staff members this year, because they didn't know how much money they would receive, Trotter said.

“Without knowing for sure, it makes it impossible to plan. You can't promise people money and then not give it to them,” she said.

The board will meet this month to discuss pay raises now that the state money has come through.

The county's libraries serve about 106,000 cardholders.

“The demand does not go away, whether we have funding or don't have funding. The people who need us are still here,” Trotter said.

There is a silver lining to having funds delayed — libraries received slightly more state aid this year than they were expecting, Muccari said.

A $940,000 payment to be split among libraries was expected this year, and $270,000 was expected for the network.

“That's the first time in many, many years that we've received an increase at all,” Muccari said.

The extra funding may help libraries that have struggled for several years.

Adams Memorial's budget has shrunk about $100,000 since 2012 because Unity eliminated its support and the Westmoreland County network changed how it distributed state aid, Trotter said. The budget is now about $660,535.

The Jeannette Public Library was closed in December and January because of the delayed state funds and because its own money ran out.

“We received the state money, so we're back in business for the moment. We're here because of that,” said Director Hope Sehring.

The library exhausted its $155,000 budget by late November. Officials are trying to keep costs lower this year but have not set a budget, Sehring said. She doesn't know what the rest of the year holds.

“That's a long way off, isn't it? December 2016 is a long way off. We're a library, and it's very hard to be a fundraising organization first,” she said.

Planning for the future is further complicated by the continued drama in Harrisburg, where legislators are debating the last budget and next one at the same time.

“What a way to do business. We don't know what they're going to do. Does anyone really?” Sehring said.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646 or jtierney@tribweb.com.

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