Finances tight for delayed Abingdon library

Set to open in '04, it has sparse operating budget

April 13, 2003|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Abingdon's new library, which has faced construction setbacks because of the winter's harsh weather, is also going to see service cuts as a result of the county's harsh budget forecast for the coming year.

The 35,000-square-foot building, originally scheduled to open in the fall, will not be ready until spring 2004, said Audra Caplan, Harford County Public Library director. Doors will likely open at the beginning of April, she said, in part because of months-long construction delays this year, but also because the program received only one-third of its requested operating budget.

And how a full 12 months will be funded in fiscal 2004 is a paramount concern, she said.

The library branch is expected to cost about $135,000 a month to operate, from staffing to utilities, she said. The library program requested a little more than a $1 million for fiscal 2003, but was allotted $300,000.

"It's not like there was a lot of fluff to begin with," Caplan said of services. The adult and children's service desk has been combined to save money. And a drive-through window and Sunday openings have been postponed indefinitely, she said.

"We're just not going to be able to do that with this budget," she said.

County Executive James M. Harkins said the Abingdon branch has been important to him for sometime. "It was a priority for me," he said. "I wanted to do that library. It was a high priority for everyone.

"I've lived up to my commitment to build it, but now," he said, pausing. "It's going to be opened, albeit at not quite the expanse of what the library would want it to be."

Funding for materials is also lagging behind, though the library recouped about $500,000 from lower-than-anticipated construction costs, Caplan said. That money will be put toward stocking the shelves.

The library is designed to hold about 200,000 items - the number of books and nonprint resources based on the size of the library and the community it serves. But when the branch opens, it will have less than half that amount, she said.

The Harford County Public Library Foundation is planning to sponsor a buy-a-book campaign to help bolster the Abingdon collection and a community day to raise awareness of library needs, said Dennis Pelletier, president of the group.

He said that although funding countywide is a "dire" situation this year, "libraries are one of those important services we can't afford to lose."

Caplan said the effects will likely extend beyond Abingdon. A popular online tutoring service, for example, which the state had paid for for the 24 jurisdictions, appears likely to be cut, and the county library program cannot not afford to maintain it.

The economic downturn that is spurring the libraries' budget woes is also sparking higher numbers of visitors, Caplan said. "Ironically, when your budget's cut, you get more users," she said. "It's unfortunate."

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