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Library budget decision up in air

| Thursday, Dec. 18, 2003

Call it the library budget battle, part two.

Northland Public Library officials warn that if Ross commissioners don't pass their portion of the library's second version of a 2004 budget on Monday night, Ross could have to pay about $80,000 more than it would under the budget currently on the table.

Ross commissioners Chairman Patrick Lawlor doesn't agree and said he is willing to take the library board to court to fight an increase.

"If they can't come to an agreement (with Ross), I think it should be litigated then. If they don't want to spend our money wisely, then maybe they should seek to do other things in life," Lawlor said.

Lawlor and other commissioners could upend the library budget when they meet at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the municipal building, 1000 Ross Municipal Drive.

Last month, commissioners rejected the library's first budget proposal by a 5-4 vote. That budget called for a $409,570 payment from Ross, up from the 2003 level of $390,000.

The library's latest proposed budget calls for Ross to pay $401,000. The total library budget is $2.01 million for next year, about $270,000 less than the 2003 budget.

The library is cutting $100,000 that was to be spent on books and other materials, library director Sandra Collins said. Costs also will be lower while the library is at its temporary location at Northway Mall in Ross, while the library building along Cumberland Road, McCandless, is being renovated and expanded.

If Ross doesn't approve a budget for the library, the budget automatically reverts to 2003 spending levels. Because of state and county budget cuts, Ross' tab for the library could be $482,000, Collins said.

Lawlor disagreed. He thinks Ross should pay $390,000, the same as this year.

"Their position is wrong. They screwed up. They blew the money. Now they're turning to the municipalities asking for more money," Lawlor said. Lawlor and other commissioners have criticized the library board's decision to go ahead with a $1.6 million expansion and remodeling of Northland's building off Cumberland Road in McCandless.

Ross Solicitor Donald Gates disagreed with Lawlor on how the budget would be apportioned next year. He said he thinks Ross could be stuck with a larger bill if the commissioners don't pass the current library budget.

Library board President Joe Mack, of Franklin Park, called Lawlor's argument unfair.

"We have not asked for an increase from our communities for six years," said Mack, referring to the total contribution from the five municipalities, projected to remain at $1.27 million next year.

Of the library's five member communities, only Bradford Woods has passed its budget. Franklin Park, McCandless, Ross and Marshall all are expected to vote on their portions next week.

Community payments are drawn from a formula based on assessed value, population and circulation. Ross' projected payment under the proposed budget would be the second highest of the five municipalities behind McCandless' $523,703 payment. Under the proposal, Bradford Woods would pay $23,029, Franklin Park would pay $222,392 and Marshall would pay $103,563.

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