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Pasco County libraries prepare for more cuts

When Pasco Library Director Linda Allen began drafting a budget for next year, times were hard enough.

Budget shortfalls had forced officials to close libraries on Mondays and leave 21 positions vacant.

No surprise that things look even worse for next year.

Allen has been working on a library budget that cuts spending by $1.2 million and puts 23 jobs on the chopping block, setting the stage for even more uncertain hours and services at the seven branches around the county.

Then, on Thursday, the news got worse again — by as much as half a million dollars for Pasco.

The state House of Representative's transportation and economic development committee has proposed cutting all state aid to libraries. Its counterpart in the Senate has proposed a $21.2 million allocation, the lowest level since the 1992-93 fiscal year.

"It's pretty awful as it stands," Allen said. "But if it gets worse, then, gee, I don't know."

Committee members were set to conference Thursday night to work out a compromise figure.

Under the Senate proposal, Pasco libraries could expect $200,000 in state money for operational costs, and that money could be used to leverage as much as $300,000 in federal funds, according to Allen. One federal grant would pay for "electronic government" programs, which are filling the gap in helping residents apply for government assistance now that many social service agencies have shut their local offices.

Allen built those figures into the $6 million budget she's working on for next year.

Faye Roberts, executive director of the Florida Library Association, called the situation "frightening" and said the ramifications could be severe, especially for small, rural libraries with half their budgets coming from the state.

"We're really concerned about what we'd see with library closings," she said.

Since 2003-04, state aid to libraries in all 67 counties has been almost $32 million a year.

Roughly $8 million in federal funds is at risk, too, said Roberts. If the state doesn't maintain certain funding levels for libraries, she said, that federal money won't come to Florida.

Allen and Roberts noted that all this comes as library use is up because of the economy. Pasco County has reported increases in the number of card holders, people borrowing materials and patrons using Internet access for job searches.

"This could be tragic," said Allen.

She has been in touch with state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who is the chairman of the Senate committee that is pushing for the $21.2 million, and state Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

Weatherford said legislators are having to make hard decisions in "the worst financial situation our state has seen," but added: "I'm personally trying to do everything I can to protect the money that's going to the libraries."

On Thursday, Allen said she wasn't sure how any of it would play out. She said she does not envy legislators.

"They're trying to do the loaves and fishes thing," she said, "and it's not working out."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Pasco County libraries prepare for more cuts 04/30/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 30, 2009 9:24pm]
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