Tax hike one step closer as Cumberland County advertises 2014 millage rate
CARLISLE – Cumberland County Commissioners on Thursday unanimously voted to advertise a budget ordinance, setting the stage for a 3 percent property tax increase in 2014.
The county had put a draft of the preliminary budget on display last week but did not set a millage rate because there were unanswered questions, mainly regarding the library’s portion of the property tax.
The newly advertised millage rate is 2.195 mills, which reflects a 3 percent tax increase.
The increase does not include the additional millage the Cumberland County Library System requested Wednesday to help make ends meet.
Without that extra $100,000, library Executive Director Jonelle Prether Darr said, the library is in danger of depleting its reserves by 2016 and would have to step up its aggressive fundraising.
This was a maintenance budget for the library with no additional services or increases, library treasurer Paul Fisher told commissioners.
Now that the millage-ordinance will be advertised, and the draft budget has been put on display for public viewing and comment, the final budget is set for adoption Dec. 9.
“It should never be easy to ask for a tax increase,” Chief Clerk Larry Thomas said prior to the commissioners’ action. “It should never be the standard response to a budget deficit.”
In asking for the 3 percent increase, Thomas said, the county took a long, hard look throughout its departments to find ways to reduce it.
But this budget is one of transition as the county restructures how it does business, he pointed out. The county just received recommendations from Public Financial Management, a consultant hired to help the county streamline services and cut costs next year and beyond.
Commissioner Jim Hertzler said he was torn about casting his vote because he does not like the idea of increasing property taxes two years in a row. The county had a 12 percent tax hike for 2013.
“We made some progress, but we have a lot of work cut out for us,” Hertzler said.
He added he would not support the library system’s request because he does not believe county taxpayers should make up the difference for depleted state funds. He said that message should be taken to legislators.
Commissioner Gary Eichelberger also said he will support advertising the millage rate but does so reluctantly.
He added it’s unfortunate the county could not help the library, which he said has done a great job managing its finances and is a model for other county departments. Many of the library’s problems are not of its own making, but with finances the way they are, the library has been forced to entrench and the level of services it provides has been put in jeopardy, he said.
Eichelberger added he has doubts about the budget that’s on display and much thought will have to go into it before final approval.
Commissioner Barbara Cross said commissioners knew several years ago that these would be challenging times for the county. She said it takes courage to make the decisions that need to be made.
“We still have a tremendous place to live,” Cross said. “And as I have and will continue to advocate, we have the lowest possible taxes.”
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.
Cumberland County Library System Books Comcast Business Ethernet Services
Pennsylvania's Cumberland County Library System (CCLS) recently selected Comcast Business Ethernet Services to network CCLS' headquarters, eight libraries and the county courthouse together. Functions and features supported by the new services include the library system's online catalog, membership portal and eResource download center, said Jonelle Prether Darr, executive director, CCLS.
Located in the South Central part of the state, the library system serves more than 245,000 residents in a growing suburban and rural community. Many of those residents commute to nearby Harrisburg for work each day, she added.
The Carrier Ethernet network is comprised of ten 100 Mbps to 1G connections linking the libraries, system headquarters and the Cumberland County courthouse. The courthouse serves as the gateway to the network because 50 percent of the library's funding comes from a countywide library tax, explained Prether Darr.
"We work with the county government to spend funds strategically and to provide back-up, as well," she added.
The CCLS network also has a 100-Mbps Ethernet Dedicated Internet (EDI) link, which serves 300 on-site computers at all of the branches. The higher speeds are a very noticeable improvement over the 3- and 6-Mbps Ethernet links that CCLS' previous carrier provided to its libraries and headquarters, respectively. Three service providers responded to the E-Rate-based request for proposal after that contract expired, but Comcast was the clear winner, said Prether Darr.
"Comcast was the best in terms of bandwidth and cost," she said.
Indeed the new contract provides better and faster Carrier Ethernet service for $60,000 less than the previous contract did for much less bandwidth, explained Prether Darr. The library system plans to save more money by adding more self-checkout stations.
"The new network allows us to increase services without adding more staff," said Prether Darr.
In addition, the new network supports the 3 million visits that library customers make to the online "card" catalog every year. It also considerably speeds up downloads of audio books, e-books, reference materials and content that must be retrieved from behind firewalls such as subscription magazines and newspapers, she explained.
With CCLS' facilities located about 45 minutes to an hour apart, the library system also is using the network to provide remote training to its 200 member staff.
"The technical skills required of librarians are pretty steep. People expect us to be able to help them with their e-book readers, smart phones and laptops, so the need for training is ongoing," said Prether Darr. "Right now we are moving to a new integrated library software system so we are using our high-bandwidth links to train people in the use of that software."
Vendors also can use the system to demonstrate new products across the library system. Librarians "are big on continuing education and we have endless opportunities to take advantage of free training," she noted.
While the new Carrier Ethernet services are a welcome change, overall, staff and patrons have received them very quietly. A few staff members giggled with delight at the higher speeds right after the network was turned up, but that is about all that the feedback that was heard.
"The true measure of success is not hearing any complaints. Customers and staff are getting their services and content delivered as quickly as they want it," said Prether Darr. "It’s business as usual."
Midstate Profile: Library director helps with behind-the-scenes work
MECHANICSBURG — It takes all kinds of people’s strengths to successfully run a group dedicated to helping the community, Sue Erdman said.
Erdman, library director at the Joseph T. Simpson Public Library in Mechanicsburg, should know. She’s a part of a handful of such groups and was the second person to receive the Downtown Mechanicsburg Partnership’s Person of the Year award last month. The award is given to individuals who have provided service to their community through volunteering.
“I was selected because of my role in the community as the library director,” Erdman said. “We’re a very visible location, we have a lot of usage, we provide a lot of educational programs for people, and it’s an important part of the community. The other piece of it was for some volunteer service I have provided over the years (with several organizations)."
The library is not the only place Erdman spends her time. She works with a group at her church, is a Rotarian and volunteers with the Downtown Mechanicsburg Partnership and the Mechanicsburg Chamber of Commerce. While she has held positions on the boards of those organizations, Erdman said she prefers to write, edit and put materials together, than be the face in the community.
“I’m more of your behind the scenes person putting things together versus being out in front, which is a challenge with the role that I have as library director,” she said. “I am required to be out in front of the public — that is part of the job. But I’m equally happy working in the background to make an event run smoothly.”
Erdman said she really loved how the 2011 campaign celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Simpson library turned out. She said there were so many events and that it was so much fun.
“We had a year-long series of events to celebrate,” she said. “It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun. It raised awareness of the library and brought people in, and we started some events that year that we are now continuing each year — one of those being our summer reading program kick-off.”
While being the library director is technically her day job, Erdman said she doesn’t feel like it’s work because she loves it so much. It’s important to her for the library to be a part of the community and help people find resources.
“In the age of the Internet, there are people out there who say that libraries are going to die, that we don’t need libraries,” she said. “It is a challenge to make people aware of the resources that are here that can’t be found on the Internet, that the library is still a vibrant and thriving place.”
County library systems cruising with faster Internet
CARLISLE – Comcast Business today announced that the Cumberland County Library System (CCLS) is using Comcast Business Ethernet services to link its system headquarters and eight regional library locations – including Shippensburg Public Library and John Graham Library in Newville – improving Internet access and digital library services for residents of Cumberland County.
The library system’s new network solution from Comcast Business affects many areas of customer service and staff support operations and provides faster Internet service along with faster access to the library system’s online catalog, membership portal, and eResource download center, while also providing improved access to remote online staff training programs and webinars.
Library Directors Susan Sanders and Mary Schoedel in Newville say the improvement is notable.
Sanders says the added speed is a bonus for library staff.
“I’ve noticed the difference in ordering library materials,” Sanders says. “The old program was so slow it was painful. This is much faster.
She says library patrons must be pleased, too.
“In the past, we were accustomed to only hearing when the Internet was too slow,” Sanders says. “The thing we’ve noticed is that the complaints have stopped.”
Schoedel agrees that the “slow Internet complaints” have disappeared.
Consisting of eight library locations and a system headquarters office, the Cumberland County Library System provides services to more than 244,700 residents across Cumberland and parts of Franklin County. Since the library receives more than 1,200 customer requests per day and its online catalog is visited approximately three million times each year, CCLS knew it needed to upgrade its network to deliver the best possible experience for individuals using library-provided computers at each location.
“Many of our customers were frustrated by our slow Internet speeds when using our library computers to upload or download documents for job searches, online classes, or when communicating with distant relatives. This sentiment was echoed by our staff as well, with most of them needing to visit the system headquarters in Carlisle to attend internal training sessions in order to avoid using slow connections for online training,” said Jonelle Prether Darr, executive director of the Cumberland County Library System. “Comcast was able to demonstrate that when there is no problem, nobody complains – and the fact that we’ve already seen a cost savings for the latter half of this year alone understandably makes us even happier.”
CCLS now has 10 Ethernet Network Service connections ranging from 100 Megabits-per-second (Mbps) to 1 Gigabit-per-second (Gbps) of speed from Comcast Business that link all locations, as well as its library headquarters to the nearby county courthouse. The organization also has a 100 Mbps Ethernet Dedicated Internet line that is improving Internet connectivity at its more than 300 on-site branch computers, and additional plans to add more services in the future are already underway.
“As a cornerstone of the communities they serve, libraries have evolved beyond just books to offering group meeting sites, public Internet access, research information and digital content, but they must offer these new services – and the technology to deliver them – within limited municipal budgets,” said Glenn Lytle, vice president of Comcast Business in the Keystone Region. “As a public library system with a cross-county wide area network, the CCLS deployment underscores the reach and price-for-performance of Comcast’s Ethernet services to help these vital community anchor institutions continue to innovate in today’s connected world.”