The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Montour County

December 18, 2013

Thomas Beaver Free Library: We need county support

DANVILLE — Thomas Beaver Free Library representatives are upset Montour County did not allocate money to the library for 2014.

County commissioners told Library Director Bonnie White and Kathy McWilliams they wanted to pursue a project at the library with Community Development Block Grant funds but were turned down flat by a library board member.

Commissioners Chairman Trevor Finn said Tuesday the county’s general fund budget of $7.6 million, which contains no tax increase, has no discretionary funds.

“We looked at other pots of money and recommended the library use CDBG funds and were turned down,” he said of a proposal to create a children’s library, a senior center and provide a weight room for first responders in the old YMCA adjacent to the library.

“When we report zero to the state from the county we get calls and emails from the state department of education asking if it’s a mistake,” White said.

“Tell them to call us,” Finn said.

White added the library does have a children’s library.

Finn said library board member John Corman “turned us down flat.”

White said even if the library accepted the proposal for the project, the library wouldn’t get its money this year.

“We are a county library,” said McWilliams, adding no money from the county reduces the library’s state allocation. “We’re talking $4,500,” McWilliams said of the county’s share to the library. “We’d be happy to accept the money from the hotel tax,” she said.

Commissioner Jerry Ward said the library would need to prove it is bringing people into the county in order to qualify for a grant under the hotel tax collected in the county. White and McWilliams said people come to the library from outside the area to research their genealogy. Ward said they would need to apply for a grant through Columbia Montour Visitors Bureau.

“If the library board talked to us instead of turning us flat out, call us. We can find another avenue instead of on the eve of passing our budget,” Ward said.

Commissioners Vice Chairman Jack Gerst said the county used CDBG money to make the library entrance accessible to the disabled.

Ward said the county could have gone through the Columbia Montour Aging Office for the senior project. Danville Borough, where the library is located, receives its own CDBG funds, he said.

Now the county is trying to use CDBG money to pay an up front amount toward a long-term lease for the Montour County Senior Center housed in a Danville-owned building. This would be instead of the Aging Office paying a monthly rental to Danville.

“This is lack of communication and not lack of support for the library,” Ward said.

“It’s a grand old building. You provide a fantastic product. My family uses it, my neighbors use it but we don‘t use the general fund budget other than for county government,” Finn said. Past boards of commissioners doled out money to a lot of organizations and they kept raising taxes, he said. “We cut out discretionary spending and look at other pots of money. We were told the library didn’t need our help,” he said.

McWilliams said she predicted within 10 to 15 years the library would be closed. “We must dip into our saved funds every year. The school district didn’t want to give us money. The money should come from a tax because we are a county library,” she said. She said the school district gave the library $16,000.

“We need cooperation whether it’s a library referendum on the ballot or CDBG funds,” Finn said.

“Economic times are terrible. There’s no way we can take it out of the general fund. It’s not there,” Gerst said. “Times are tough everywhere. Reduce budgets, reduce salaries. Last year our entire staff had a zero increase in pay,” Gerst said.

White said the state wants the library to collect 5 percent more locally than it did the previous year. Without the county’s contribution, the library lost about $4,000 from the state last year, she said. Each year the library doesn’t meet its goal, it loses more money from the state, she said. The penalty for missing the mark is getting worse. She said the library could lose up to $5,500 next year.

Finn asked the library representatives, and they agreed, to form a task force to meet with the commissioners. “None of us want to see the library fail,” he said.

Finn said the commissioners could meet with several library board members. White said the library board would have to vote on the representatives. “We can make this succeed. We need open lines of communication,” Finn said.

“There can be a wide range of benefits to everybody. Let’s talk it out and not take a closed attitude. I think it can work out if we approach it correctly,” Ward said.

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