Luzerne County council member proposes funding increase for public libraries

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - jandes@timesleader.com
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Amid numerous proposed budget cuts, Luzerne County Councilwoman Kathy Dobash has suggested a $25,000 increase for public libraries next year.

The county currently provides $875,000 for the library system annually.

Past county officials had periodically discussed increases but kept the allocation flat, citing the county’s fiscal struggles. Reducing or eliminating discretionary funding for libraries and other entities also had been cited as an option in 2014 and 2015, but council members dropped the idea after concerns about closures and service cuts.

Council members are scheduled to vote on the proposed amendment, among others, before the final 2018 budget adoption Tuesday.

Dobash proposed the increase because she believes it is important for the county to support public libraries.

Councilman Stephen A. Urban concurred, saying the county had provided $1.14 million to libraries until the allocation was reduced to $875,000 in 2009.

County consideration of additional library funding is a pleasant surprise, said Richard Miller, executive director of the Osterhout Free Library in Wilkes-Barre and overseer of the county library system.

“Any funding increase is welcomed. We haven’t had one in a long time,” Miller said Monday.

Many computers must be replaced next year at the system’s 10 libraries and seven additional satellite branches because they are outdated, Miller said. An additional $25,000 would fund most, if not all, of that expense, preventing the need to cut back on book purchases or hours.

County library computers were accessed approximately 150,000 times last year, Miller said. Some visitors have no computers and rely on the library ones to check email, apply for jobs, connect to social media and take online practice examinations. The computers also are used for genealogy research and library computer classes, he said.

Around 800,000 people visited county libraries last year, borrowing 650,000 books and videos, including nearly 192,000 items for children.

“We’re a busy place,” said Miller.

The system’s annual budget is $1.8 million, funded primarily by the county and a $1 million state allocation, he said.

After $155,000 is deducted for computer software programs, he said the remaining allocation is split among the local libraries.

Libraries also hold fundraisers and seek donations from the public, school districts and municipalities to cover their expenses. For example, one-third of the Osterhout’s budget comes from fundraising, Miller estimated.

The county’s library allocation is part of an $8 million intergovernmental appropriations budget category. The other recipients and proposed 2018 county contributions, according to a report prepared by Budget/Finance Division Head Brian Swetz:

• Luzerne County Community College, $6.19 million

• Penn State Extension, $220,688

• Mountain Council of Governments, $5,000

• Luzerne Conservation District, $15,000

• Luzerne County Transportation Authority, $605,500

• Hazleton Transit, $115,000

• Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development, $15,000

• Wilkes-Barre Law Library, $500

Two agencies are seeking increases in 2018, Swetz said.

The Penn State Extension is asking for $3,180 more, primarily to cover increased wages and benefits. The organization provides research-based education programs to improve the environment and public health, including assistance on nutrition, urban forestry and gardening.

The county transportation authority, which provides public bus and van service, is requesting a 5 percent boost for the second half of 2018, Swetz said. The authority is projected to receive $294,970 in May and $309,718 in November.

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https://www.psdispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/web1_dobashuse-2.jpegDobash

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

jandes@timesleader.com

IF YOU GO

Tuesday’s Luzerne County Council meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the county courthouse on River Street in Wilkes-Barre.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.