Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Library funding top public concern at county budget presentation

The County Commissioners held their annual public budget presentation on Tuesday night and the top concern expressed by those in attendance concerned funding for the county's public libraries.

At issue is a proposed $150,000 cut in funding for the county library system. The county currently funds the libraries at a cost of $2.3 million dollars a year. In the proposed 2009 budget, that funding would decrease to $2.15 million.

P.J. Reilly paraphrased Susan Hauer, Administrator of the Lancaster Library System, in the Nov. 28 Intelligencer Journal as follows:

"If the commissioners stick with the proposed 2009 appropriation of $2.1 million, Hauer said the library system will be short-changed and the member libraries likely will get no county funds."

Unless she was speaking in hyperbole, in want of county funding, it is curious that the "system" would so readily pass that loss along to each of the individual libraries, where the end delivery of programs takes place.

The fact that the county is proposing cuts in funding to the system at all was enough to prompt at least half a dozen library administrators to ask the Commissioners to reconsider.

"Your public libraries in this county are preventative maintenance," said Deb Beisel, Executive Director of the Elizabethtown Public Library. "Every penny spent on libraries is going back into the community."

Other administrators spoke of positive programs at their libraries that might suffer like reading for children, and financial literacy for adults.

Hauer noted that the library system has been flat funded since since 2000.

Debra Rosser-Hogben, Executive Director of the Lancaster Public Library said, "Eventually we're not going to be able to draw any more from our endowment."

Commissioner Scott Martin told NewsLanc that everyone has had to make sacrifices to avoid raising taxes and that, despite the value of libraries, they are not a mandated service.

Chair Dennis Stuckey said that he and his fellow commissioners are not requiring the library system to cut back on funding for programs at the individual libraries.

Stuckey added that he will listen to the comments of library advocates at the remaining budget hearing and take their comments under advisement.

"I'm interested in hearing what they have to say. We haven't closed the door completely yet," he said.

The commissioners will be having their next budget worksession on Thursday, Dec. 4 at 2:30 p.m.

The county budget as a whole will appear before the commissioners for a vote at their regular meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 17.