Westmoreland libraries contend with lack of state budget
The Westmoreland Federated Library System, which provides services and support to 24 county libraries, will be out of money by the end of January unless a state budget is passed soon.
The district might have to lay off employees if the budget crisis continues, said Cesare Muccari, executive director of the library network. It also might have to eliminate the van service that ferries books and other materials between libraries.
Any reduction in services would impact the system's 106,000 cardholders. In 2014, the system circulated 1,227,419 items including books, DVDs and audio books, Muccari said.
The library district was supposed to receive its state funding, about $270,000, in July. That money hasn't arrived.
“We're in a period of unknown. We know nothing,” Muccari said.
Even if state leaders reach an agreement soon, it likely would take another month for payments to reach the library system, Muccari said. The district has only enough money to see it through January, and unless the state provides a quick infusion of cash, there likely will have to be cuts.
“If it isn't passed, then we're going to have to make some hard decisions in January,” he said.
The district is already behind on its annual payments to use Polaris ILS, the software system that handles library cards, user accounts and the online catalog across all 24 libraries. Polaris and the library system have reached a temporary deal allowing the library to make smaller payments, but Muccari said he doesn't know how much longer that will last or how libraries will cope if the system is deactivated.
Individual libraries haven't been hit quite as hard by the budget standoff. They get their money in January, and already received their state aid before the impasse began.
But the ongoing budget dispute means the network might soon be victim to a “double whammy,” Muccari said.
Not only has the district been operating without its usual state funds, the impasse could delay next month's usual aid to individual libraries.
The network's 24 libraries are expecting to split $940,000 in state aid among them. This is in addition to the $270,000 that the district as a whole was supposed to receive in July.
Some county libraries have been struggling for years to make ends meet, even with their standard state aid.
The Jeannette Public Library has been closed since Thanksgiving and will not reopen until Jan. 6. Library officials said last week that insufficient funds forced it to close.
Though state lawmakers have been inching closer to passing a budget, even a rapid agreement might be too late to avoid any damage to libraries' bottom lines.
“It's going to be hazy. Even if the budget is passed this week, then it has to go to the governor, and he's got to sign it,” Muccari said.
Libraries also don't know how much money to plan for, because they don't know whether the state budget will cut aid.
District leaders will weigh their options over the next month as they try to decide what to do if the state money doesn't come through, Muccari said.
Jacob Tierney is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.