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Cumberland County's library asks commissioners for tax increase

CARLISLE -- Cumberland County’s Library System could be broke by 2016.

 

With decreasing state funding in recent years, the library has had to dip into its reserves, and with more state cuts on the horizon, those reserves are in danger of depletion.

 

Members of the library system’s board came before the Cumberland County commissioners Wednesday, asking for an increase in the dedicated portion of the property tax they receive from the county.

 

The tax hike would be an increase from 0.143 mills to 0.1473 mills, giving the library system an extra $100,000, Cumberland County Library System treasurer Paul Fisher told commissioners.

 

The problem some commissioners have, though, is the request comes as the county is trying to cut down a 3 percent property tax increase that’s already pending, and Commissioner Jim Hertzler said he does not believe county taxpayers should have to pay to make up for the state’s shortfall.

 

The library system currently receives $3.2 million from the county each year with a dedicated portion of the property tax.

 

Library system Executive Director Jonelle Prether Darr said state funding peaked in 2007 at about $1.7 million, and that is now down to about $1 million.

 

More state cuts are on the way, too, now that Cumberland County has been elevated to third-class county status, she said. That change can mean a cut of anywhere between $100,000 to as much as $900,000, though it is still unknown when, or if, those cuts will come.

 

But even with the state reductions, she pointed out the library has been able to balance its budget in recent years by dipping into its reserves, which are now down to $1.6 million, and in danger of running out soon.

 

To help make ends meet, the library and its volunteer organizations have increased their fundraising efforts, she said. Operating hours have been cut by 10 percent, staff cuts have been made, and the library system is spending less on new materials.

 

At the same time, the demand for the library’s services is at an all-time high, Prether Darr said. Digital library services are in high demand, and the summer reading program for children had 7,100 kids registered.

 

But Hertzler said his concern is that the county is already working to reduce the impending property hike.

 

“We’re trying to hold the line and cut the county property tax,” Hertzler said. “I don’t know why the county’s taxpayers should make up for the state’s failure to make adequate funding.”

 

He said he would like both the library system and county to call upon state legislators to increase funding.

 

The library has increased its fines, and Commissioner Barbara Cross said they should consider other increases, too, such as fees for some services. But Prether Darr said these options are limited because the library receives state dollars, capping the charges it can impose.

 

And Commissioner Gary Eichelberger, who is the commissioner representative to the library’s board, said the library system has a short-term and a long-term problem. The long-term problem is dealing with the state’s future funding, but the short-term problem is making sure the library does not deplete its reserves, and can remain afloat.

 

But in making a decision, commissioners should consider that the library services are in demand, and are used by many around the county, giving the county a return on its investment, Eichelberger said.

 

“Our citizens vote with their feet, and their feet take them to the library,” Eichelberger said.

 

The county’s final budget, which will likely include a decision on the library tax, as well as the rest of the property-tax increase, is set for adoption Dec. 9. 

 

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