Library officials welcome proposed budget increase

April 10, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

Harford County library officials say County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's proposed budget for fiscal 1995, which adds $818,664 to the library's operating budget, will go a long way toward improving its collection and restoring hours of service to their 1992 level.

Library Director Philip A. Place said the increase, which amounts nearly 19 percent over last year's budget of $4.33 million, will help meet the library's two key goals -- buying more books and keeping the nine library branches open longer.

"Books and hours were our priorities," he said. "So I'm pleased with what we got."

The executive officially submitted the $237.3 million budget to the County Council last week. The council must approve it by May 31. It takes effect July 1.

The additional funding is much less than the $3 million the library had requested, but it is substantially more than the $518,000 increase it received last year. It brings the library's total operating budget for fiscal 1995 to $5.15 million.

"It's not enough to give us a full program, to do all that we'd like, but it's a good step in the right direction," Mr. Place said.

The proposed increase allocates $378,000 to salaries, including a 3 percent cost-of-living increase for all employees, step increases and merit raises. It allocates $200,000 to improving books and materials, and $240,000 to restoring hours.

The library reduced its hours of operation 14 percent since August 1992 because it could not afford to pay employees to staff the branches. At the smaller branches, evening hours were reduced or eliminated, and the Havre de Grace and Edgewood libraries are open only four hours on Saturday.

Only the Bel Air library is open on Sunday, and none of the branches opens before 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

Mr. Place said the budget increase would not restore hours completely, but it will "make a substantial adjustment." The library's 1995 budget proposal estimated that it would cost $300,000 to completely restore hours.

The library employs about 200 people in full-time and part-time positions, the director said. Longer hours of service will likely bring some part-time employees to full-time status.

The $200,000 proposal for books is far less than the $1.23 million in new dollars the library requested.

"It falls far short of what we asked for, but I think we'll be able to do a lot," said Mary Patricia Massarelli, chairman of the board of library trustees.

The library's current collection of books, magazines and

audiovisual materials is 638,065 items.

Library officials have blamed the reduced hours and inadequate collection for the 6 percent drop in circulation in 1993, the first such decrease among Harford County libraries in more than five years.

Mrs. Rehrmann's 1995 capital budget, also unveiled last week, allocates $250,000 for architectural plans for renovating the outdated Bel Air branch, fiscally locking in the county's commitment to keeping the library downtown.

Last year's capital budget allocated $50,000 to study the feasibility of enlarging the Bel Air branch at its current site on Pennsylvania and Hickory avenues. That study, while not

complete, has generated three options for the Bel Air overhaul, Mr. Place said.

"It definitely found that it can be done," he said about enlarging the library from its present size of 22,000 square feet to about 50,000 square feet.

The library board had originally planned to relocate the Bel Air branch to a site off MacPhail Road on the edge of town, where a building large enough to accommodate Bel Air's population could be constructed.

But the county executive, Council President Jeffrey Wilson and the Bel Air Town Council objected. Mrs. Rehrmann allocated $50,000 in fiscal 1994 to restudy options for rebuilding on the downtown site and has been negotiating with the town to acquire land behind the library that is essential for expansion.

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