Faced with the possibility of a $30,000 budget cut, the Carroll County Public Library system plans to earn its money -- one ghost story at a time.
For the first time since the library became a countywide system in 1958, the library board will hold a fund-raiser this year to pay for items unavailable in the current budget. The library is selling $25 tickets for a Carroll County Ghost Walk on April 14, which is during National Library Week.
Circulating about 19 items per county resident each year, the Carroll library system is the busiest in the state.
"There's been a change in thinking," said Linda Mielke, library director.
"The budget is tight, and taxpayers are tired of paying for the same old thing year after year. It's difficult -- so we've all had to raise our own money."
About $4.8 million -- or 80 percent -- of the library system's budget of $6 million comes from county taxpayers. The county commissioners are considering a budget that would cut $30,000 from the library system's operating budget.
Mielke said the reduction likely would force her to cut back on supplies and summer reading program activities, and staff training or staff.
"Books and materials are why we're in business," Mielke told the commissioners at last night's budget presentation.
"The hard choices I've presented here today are something the library board would need to do if we get a $30,000 cut."
She also asked the commissioners to include $1.7 million for a Finksburg library branch in the six-year capital plan.
The commissioners can change the budget proposal, which is the recommendation of the county budget office, before it is finalized in May.
Aside from the county contribution, the state provides about $758,000. The remaining $424,000 comes from fines and fees, according to county budget statistics.
The library system spends about 67 percent of its annual budget on staff, Mielke said. About 18 percent is spent on books and materials. The remainder goes toward miscellaneous items, such as computers, staff training and the system's five library branch buildings and headquarters.
Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said last night that she would favor returning the $30,000 to the library budget.
"People use those materials. They give families opportunities they wouldn't have access to," Gouge said. "That's what taxes are all about. Obviously our libraries are well-used, and that's the whole point."
The library system's shift from being a book warehouse to providing a collection of printed and electronic material can be seen in its shifting budgetary allocations.
"When we say `materials' these days, we don't just mean books," Mielke said. "There's books and CDs and Books on Tape and videos and magazines and magazine and newspaper databases."
In 1997, the Carroll County Public Library spent $781,178 on books and materials. About 75 percent of that money went toward books.
About 8 percent went for nonprint items, including audio cassettes and compact discs; 7 percent for newspapers and magazines; 7 percent for electronic access to database subscriptions; and 3 percent for videos.
With Gov. Parris N. Glendening's increase in state aid to libraries, Carroll's budget for books and materials rose 29 percent to more than $1 million this fiscal year.
The fiscal year 2001 budget under consideration by the county commissioners does not include money for a Finksburg library branch.
Finksburg residents have complained that it takes about 30 minutes to get to the Westminster or Eldersburg library branches.