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RAD formula called unfair to poorer libraries

Municipalities that give more also get more

Friday, November 13, 1998

By Jonathan D. Silver, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The Andrew Carnegie Free Library in Carnegie, one of the first libraries established by the steel magnate whose name it bears, almost closed for several weeks last December because it was so strapped for cash.

Things are not much better this year. The library has had to rely on bake sales, direct mailings and even a golf tournament to stitch shut its budget shortfall.

Also helping make ends meet was an annual grant from the Regional Asset District, whose board administers half the revenue collected by the county's 1 percent sales tax.

While Glenn Walsh, a trustee, is happy that his library and the 41 others funded by the grant can get any cash at all, he believes the money is unfairly distributed.

In Walsh's eyes, his small-town library has fallen victim to a funding formula that favors larger, wealthier municipalities at the expense of smaller, poorer ones. Walsh's biggest complaint is that a large portion of the county money is handed out on a matching basis: the county gives a quarter for every dollar a community puts into its library.

Next year, Walsh explained in a presentation earlier this week to the RAD board, his library is slated to receive $21,500 in RAD funds, or $2.32 per person served, while the library in Green Tree will receive $50,600, or $10.31 per person, Walsh said.

Similarly, Hampton's library will take in $26,800, or $1.72 per person, compared to $157,000 in Upper St. Clair, or $7.97 per person.

"Smaller towns like Carnegie are hurt by that because they can't afford to levy as high as Mt. Lebanon or Upper St. Clair," Walsh said. "They'll always be able to outspend our borough and get more RAD money."

Gerald T. Voros, the RAD board chairman, said the idea behind the formula is to reward communities willing to spend money on their libraries. He said the board would consider Walsh's request for a change in the formula but doubted it would happen.

"Glenn has never been happy because he always wants more money. Everybody wants more money," Voros said.

This year about $24,000 in RAD money -- both the matching funds and other RAD funds distributed evenly to all the libraries -- was earmarked for the library in Carnegie, based partly on a borough contribution of about $7,000.

But Mt. Lebanon contributed $675,000 to its library this year. As a result, the municipality received $236,000 in RAD money, of which $184,000 came from the 25 percent match.

"I think in many ways it is fair to everyone," said Cynthia Richey, director of the Mt. Lebanon Public Library. "Each library does not need to be a Mt. Lebanon."

Supporters of the current formula, which was developed by the Allegheny County Library Association and is under review by that body, said if libraries want more money, their communities should be willing to spend more and not try to take another's share.

"If Carnegie feels they're more deserving, I think they need to build a stronger case," said John Bonassi, president of the Green Tree Public Library's board. "Don't tear down communities who have worked for decades to build their funding."

Whether a community is dedicated sometimes is irrelevant. Harry Schlegel, Plum council's finance chairman, was stunned to hear how much RAD money Mt. Lebanon will receive. He said Plum, which will receive $53,100 next year, or $2.07 per person in RAD money, according to Walsh's calculations, doesn't have extra money to spend, not on libraries or anything else.

Diana Tresco, president of the Plum library's trustees, said the formula has not only been unfair, it has actually worked against the borough. Residents, who crushed a referendum earlier this month that would have raised $75,000 a year in taxes for the library, believe that RAD money is all the borough needs, Tresco said.



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