YOUNGSTOWN Board's planning keeps libraries ahead in funding

The library system has adopted a variety of money-saving and revenue-enhancement strategies.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County is using a mix of spending controls and diversification of income sources to make up for current and potential future decreases in state funding.
Library hours, service and staff aren't being cut.
Due to the state budget crunch, the library system's funding from the state income tax was reduced by about $200,000 last year and is likely to be reduced another $196,000 this year, said Janet Loew, the library's communications and public relations director.
Figures: The library's projected operating budget for this year is $12,149,500, of which the state income tax is projected to be $10,614,010, or 87.3 percent.
"Where your funding is tied to an income tax, you do pretty well when the economy is good, but when the economy is bad, you don't do so hot," said Carleton Sears, library director.
The next-largest component of the library's operating budget is a 0.6-mill countywide property tax levy that is expected to generate $1,135,000 this year. That levy was last renewed for five years in November 2000.
The library's board of trustees planned ahead long ago and put money aside for major construction projects, such as the construction of the newly opened Poland branch and the new Austintown branch, which is under construction, Sears said. Both building projects are debt-free, he added.
"We can weather this storm because we have a board that's been very prudent," Loew said.
What's being done: Sears said the library system is making up for lost state income tax funds by:
* Deferring planned further expansion of library hours.
* Engaging in fund-raising and applying for grants to support building projects.
* Raising fees for rental of library meeting rooms.
* Entering into an agreement under which a concessionnaire pays utilities and gives the library system 6 percent of sales from Chapters Cafe at the Poland branch, with a similar arrangement to be made for a coffee kiosk at the new Austintown branch.
* Receiving proceeds from a bookstore to be opened later this year at the Poland branch and run by the Council of Friends of the Libraries.
* Seeking staff suggestions for cost-cutting.
The library system has also been heavily engaged in fund-raising from private donors in recent years, Sears said, adding that he is considering hiring a development director to focus specifically on seeking gifts from corporations, foundations and individuals.
The Poland branch effort -- the largest single private fund-raising campaign in the system's history -- has raised $800,000 of the $7,437,000 combined cost of the building and its furnishings.
That campaign still seeks another $200,000, according to Loew, whose job includes fund-raising.
"People want to give to libraries. People think kindly of libraries," Loew said, adding that many gifts come from satisfied patrons.
Fund-raising plans: Construction bids at the Austintown branch totaled $2,877,874, not including furnishings; and a furnishing budget is still being developed. A private fund-raising campaign there will seek at least $400,000. Donors will have an opportunity to sponsor rooms, study alcoves, columns, benches, chairs and planters.
"People like being able to honor or memorialize somebody in that way," Loew said.
"We're going to focus a lot on inner-city branches. We're already starting to work on those," Sears said, adding that the system will seek foundation grants to help improve service at these branches.
Last year, the system received a $214,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to pay for computer equipment, he noted.
The system is also considering making an appeal to donors willing to make planned gifts as part of their estates, he said.
"People recognize the educational value of the library and the value of a library to a community. They recognize that taxes don't pay everything," Loew concluded.

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