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Local budget cuts hurt libraries regionally

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Area budget cuts, including zero funding in St. Lawrence County and a proposed 10 percent drop in Lewis County, could trigger regional state-aid reductions for libraries.

“If other cuts are in the works, this could add up to a huge cut,” said North Country Library System Director Stephen B. Bolton. “For the libraries, it’s going to have a big impact. They struggle to provide their traditional services.”

The St. Lawrence County tentative budget projects a tax levy increase of 20 percent even with most outside agencies eliminated from any funding. Lewis County significantly has chopped outside agency funding over the past several years.

Lewis County in its 2009 budget dropped funding for such agencies from $260,000 to $163,600, including a reduction to the county’s 12 public libraries from $63,938 to $25,000.

After a couple years of stable payouts, county legislators in their 2012 budget implemented a 20 percent cut for most of the agencies, including a drop in library funding to $20,000 to mirror the cuts asked of county departments.

Lewis County legislators this year asked department heads for an additional 10 percent reduction for 2013 and already have cut funding for the I Love NY program by the same percentage, indicating that outside agencies will see a similar cut.

Two years ago, St. Lawrence County provided libraries with $120,000, then cut funding to $99,000. It doesn’t plan to provide any money in 2013.

“All of this is starting to add up,” Mr. Bolton said.

Massena’s library is an example of one facing multiple losses.

Massena Public Library received $16,867 in county funding in 2010 and $14,115 in 2011 and 2012, according to Director Elaine Dunne-Thayer. Any cut in county funding would be in addition to the town funding reduction the library is bracing for. Supervisor Joseph D. Gray had proposed the town contribute $13,000 less than it did in 2012, and Councilman John F. Macaulay recently proposed nearly $65,000 less on top of that at a recent budget workshop.

“Every year we do hear that funding will be cut,” Ms. Dunne-Thayer said of the county money. “This year, it’s especially difficult for us. It would be very difficult for us to have services remain as they are.”

Additional reductions in town and village budgets could compound the funding loss because the state looks at overall local support under its formula for dispensing aid.

“We don’t know what those will be until the libraries report in January,” Mr. Bolton said.

The state already has cut what it allots for north country libraries by 22 percent since 2007. State aid for library service delivery amounted to $1.2 million in 2012. If local support declines by 5 percent in any two-year period, the state cuts its funding by 25 percent.

“That would affect all our libraries,” Mr. Bolton said. “We’re living on the same dollar amount we received in 1996.”

NCLS no longer provides member libraries with money for materials and has cut its staff over the last decade from 33 to 19.

“As the state does less for libraries, we’re really squeezed,” Mr. Bolton said.

Jefferson County has been a steady supporter, providing $165,000 a year. Funding from Oswego County has been stable recently, but about five years ago, the county reduced its spending for libraries from $110,000 to zero for two years. Libraries there were then reinstated at an annual level of $55,000, Mr. Bolton said.

Member libraries are appealing to their respective representatives that they serve everyone and, therefore, should receive financial support.

Libraries in St. Lawrence County had hoped for a funding increase to $105,000, not zero, to keep up with technology needs, Canton Free Library Director Carolyn J. “Lyn” Swafford said.

“We do perform a service for many people who have nowhere else to go,” she said.

Times Staff Writer Steve Virkler and Johnson Newspapers reporter Brian Hayden contributed to this report.

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