Speak out to stop cuts
Area libraries don't want patrons to keep quiet about possible cuts. They are organizing letter-writing and telephone drives to remind elected officials that libraries matter.
Gov. Ed Rendell proposed a bare-bones education budget, with $90 million in cuts. Libraries, funded under the education budget, took the biggest hit, losing $37.5 million; 40 percent of the total cut.
In contrast, this fiscal year, state-funded libraries shared $75 million.
In March, Rendell signed the budget but vetoed the $4 billion basic education portion. The budget must be approved by June 30.
Under current state law, libraries have received increased funding over the years based on fulfilling state mandates. Mandates include requiring that libraries be open at least 45 hours per week, increase acquisitions and receive a certain amount of local municipal support. With a 50 percent cut looming, libraries will scramble to fulfill the mandates or risk losing all state aid.
They are asking area residents to let their elected officials know that cutting the library budget is not acceptable.
The state provides about one-quarter ($25,000) of the Scottdale Public Library's budget, and a $12,500 cut would be devastating. The library now gets by with $90,000 to $100,000 annually.
"It's going to be pretty tough," said Patti Miller, director. "It's going to affect our poorest patrons."
Many students in the Southmoreland School District must complete computer-aided homework assignments, and the poorest students often cannot afford a computer or Internet access. They rely on the library.
"If that budget is cut, one of the first things that has to go is Internet access or repair and replacing of computers. We have tried to keep everything so that all students in the district are on an even footing. To me this is devastating." Miller said.
Miller also fears that the library will lose all state funding if it cannot afford to stay open the hours the state currently requires, provide educational programs and spend an ever-increasing amount on acquisitions. "Unless we can raise that extra money, we can't meet the standard."
The library does have the money to demolish the recently purchased old YMCA building, but does not yet have the money to build a new facility.
"It's hard to build a building when you're struggling, but we're forging ahead," Miller said.
Patrons understand what's at stake. A postcard-writing campaign has yielded more than 100 responses in its first week and Miller believes that more will continue to write and call their elected officials.
"We'll find a way to keep open," Miller said. "I will fight to keep this library open."
She also hopes that the education budget will be reconsidered more realistically. "I think that was a desperation budget and I hope he will see that libraries are an important part of education and communities."
"We're planning on building a new library," said Judy Ermine, president of the Scottdale Library Board. "Now, we're concerned with keeping our budget on track with the library we have. We'll have to raise thousands of dollars to meet the state mandates. So we're determined not to cut our services to a significant amount, but we don't know what we'll have to do. It's going to be very hurtful.
"To make the budget even before this, we had to raise $20,000 to 25,000 ourselves. It takes a lot of fines and book sales and bake sales to raise that kind of money," she added. "You wonder where else you're going to get it. Mainly, we need help from the general public to convince these legislators that this cut is just unrealistic."
Jill Cook serves as treasurer of the Mount Pleasant Free Public Library. She said the library received $34,900 from the state in 2002. "That's 34 percent of our budget. A cut would hurt."
Mount Pleasant has postcards available to send to officials.
According to Julia Allen, director of the Carnegie Free Library in Connellsville, "It's going to have a very deep effect. The state provided $80,000 last year, "roughly 49 percent of our budget."
Like other libraries, Carnegie has not yet decided how the cuts will affect its future.
"I don't think it will be possible to fulfill the mandates, though," Allen said. "It will have a tremendous impact on hours."
Allen also worries about the future of children's literacy. "We have been concentrating on buying materials for the children's section. One of the only places that you can cut is the materials budget if you want everything to remain status quo. That is the primary reason people come in here. If you want children to read, they have to have books available."
The Uniontown Public Library received $62,000 from the state this year, according to director Christy Fusco.
"That's about 22 percent of our budget," Fusco said. "Reduction would not be a very good situation for us. Ever since the state has been supporting the libraries at a higher level, we've been offering more services and it's hard to keep those services. Certain costs are fixed. You have to look at those that aren't fixed, like the materials budget, the amount and levels of materials and the hours that you'll be able to stay open.
"We're really involved in educating our community to let their legislators and the governor know that they want the money restored," Fusco added.
Local libraries rely on district libraries for interlibrary loans, which deliver books not available locally to patrons.
In addition to coordinating interlibrary loans and delivering the books, the Monessen District Center also provides materials for summer reading programs, reference information and other support for smaller libraries, serving 36 libraries in Fayette and Westmoreland counties.
Like individual libraries, the center's budget will be cut 50 percent, $540,000.
Annette Kovic serves as assistant director and district consultant for the Monessen District Center. She says the district is grappling with what programs to cut, since district aid starts July 1, the day after the state budget must be passed.
"We've been able to develop more programs with additional state funding, like a winter reading program, a million minute reading challenge this year, incentives for summer reading and also provide continuing education for the librarians in the system," Kovic said.
What programs will be the first cut, she didn't know. "We haven't decided yet. We're actually struggling with that right now. It would be a tremendous impact on our service."
At a March press conference, Rep. Ted Harhai, a Monessen Democrat, said, "We can ill afford in the state of Pennsylvania to have this occur."
Rep. Jess Stairs, an Acme Republican, called the cuts "Draconian."
Fusco agreed. "When a community, such as ours, where we're struggling to turn around a bad economic situation and turn around literacy faces cuts, it's pretty frightening."
Speak OutContact these elected officials to stop the cuts:
Gov. Ed Rendell
Sen. Richard Kasunic
Sen. Allen Kukovich (D-39)
Rep. Peter Daley (D-49)
Rep. Larry Roberts (D-51)
Rep. James Shaner (D-52)
Rep. Jess Stairs (R-59)