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Carnegie Library pleads for more RAD funds
$19.4 million, including a $1.7 million 'stopgap' increase, sought as task force works to line up long-term funding source
Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh pleaded with the Allegheny Regional Asset District board Tuesday for a 9.8 percent increase in funding next year to cover an expected $1.7 million deficit.

Barbara K. Mistick, the library's director, described the request as a "stopgap" measure needed to give a public-private task force formed early this year more time to identify a long-term funding source for the Carnegie system.

Ms. Mistick said the task force had been studying numerous options to raise money for the libraries but had yet to hit on a solution. Among the ideas it currently is considering is a public library district.

The task force is expected to make a report to the library's board of trustees by October. But whatever is recommended will probably take time to implement, necessitating the need for RAD's intervention to cover the deficit, Ms. Mistick said.

"We're trying to do everything we can to come up with a solution," added library board chairwoman Jacqui Fiske Lazo. "It's just not quite ripe."

A 9.8 percent increase would equal $1.7 million and would bring the library's total allocation next year to almost $19.4 million, the most of any organization that receives funding from RAD. This year, the library received $17.6 million.

As the library has struggled financially, the city authorized a $600,000 grant in December and another for $640,000 this year to keep the Carnegie's 19 branches open.

Ms. Mistick blamed the library's woes almost exclusively on the state, telling RAD board members that aid had been cut by more than $2 million in the last two years alone. She said more cuts may be on the way, as the state itself tries to make ends meet.

"We're in a deeper hole than we were last year. This is extremely discouraging, as you can imagine," Ms. Lazo said.

Ms. Mistick added that the library had done everything it could to trim expenses, including cuts in staff and hours. She said there was not much left to chop, other than branches.

"If we cut, it's into muscle," she said.

The state has allocated a portion of the revenue from table games in Pennsylvania casinos to the library, but Ms. Mistick said that was not expected to kick in until 2011.

Even then, it's unclear exactly how much money it will receive, with estimates ranging from $200,000 to $800,000 a year. Even at the high end, that would not be enough to cover the expected deficit, Ms. Mistick noted.

RAD stopgap funding would allow the library to operate all branches and maintain the same hours, staff and services in 2011, she said. Without it, "I'm sure we would have to make some very difficult decisions," she said.

The quandary is that if the library can't get money to cover the deficit and is forced to close branches, it also would be barred from receiving the table games revenue.

At the same time, the request for a $1.7 million increase from its highest-funded asset poses a dilemma for the RAD board, which has been coping with declining to flat sales tax revenues, its chief funding source.

Other organizations funded by the district also have been clamoring for increases, as they face many of the same cuts in state aid the library has endured.

Rick Pierchalski, a RAD board member, said the task force must find a long-term solution for the library's funding woes. "RAD cannot afford to do this at the expense of other assets," he said.

Others wondered whether the request for the one-time stopgap funding would become a yearly ritual. Ms. Mistick assured them it would not.

"There is no way I find this a pleasurable experience to come here and beg each year," she said.

RAD board chairman Rob Jones said it was too early to tell whether the district would have the money to meet the library's request, although it is not expecting much of an increase in sales tax revenues next year.

The library was one of five organizations to kick off RAD hearings on funding requests for 2011 Tuesday. In all, 97 groups have requested $85.6 million in aid for next year. This year, the board adopted a $78.8 million budget.

Others requesting increases Tuesday included the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, 5 percent, and the National Aviary, 13 percent.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

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First published on August 25, 2010 at 12:00 am
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