2003-03-22 / Community

Library Reps: Funding is Overdue

By Brian Magoolaghan
Library Reps: Funding is Overdue By Brian Magoolaghan

By Brian Magoolaghan

At least two local branches are feeling the pinch as Queens libraries are shorted as much as three quarters of a million dollars in funding each year, and the situation could soon get worse.

Arverne and Broad Channel are two of 15 libraries that recently had to close on Saturdays, according to Dan Andrews, a representative from the Queens Borough President's Office. Dollars that could be used to keep five of those 15 libraries open is supposed to be in this year's budget, but have not been included, Andrews said-and the state might not be the only one looking to slash the budget, as federal and city funding could also be reduced.

Albany's funding formula for libraries is based on population information provided by the United States Census Bureau. The 2000 census shows an increase in Queens by nearly 280,000 people, which would translate into an additional $750,000 in funding, but Queens libraries haven't seen a dime of it, according to Queens Library Public Relations Director Joe Catrambone, Jr.

"This is the third year the state will use the 1990 figures and not the 2000 census....this has shortchanged [Queens Libraries] a total of $2.5 million so far," Catrambone said.

Although there is some disagreement about just how long Queens has been shorted, those close to the issue say the funding should have already been increased. The 2000 census figures didn't become available until the April 2002-March 2003 funding year, according to Carol Desch Coordinator of Statewide Library Services at the New York Library.

"We used the 2000 census to calculate the library funding [for this year], but the legislature and Governor Pataki put language in the budget to say no one would get less than they did in 2001-2002. At the same time they didn't put any more dollars in the budget-so no one could get more," Desch said.

The language used in the current budget ensures that NY libraries get the same level of funding this year as they did last, so "there's no big winners and no big losers," Desch said.

Some closer to home feel differently. "Losing $750,000 a year is a big loss for us," Catrambone said.

In addition to that "invisible cut" the governor will slash another 15 percent, or about $700,000, in state aid this year, according to Catrambone. That could cause an additional loss of 15 percent in federal funds, which are based on state figures, Desch said. Several calls to the Executive Chamber, in Albany, were not returned by press time.

The city is also looking to give libraries less money. A contingency cut, not yet part of Mayor Bloomberg's formal proposal, could cost Queens another $2 million, Catrambone said.

In an effort to stave off proposed cuts and push for the census related money, the Queens Borough Public Library held its "Library Day in Albany" on Tuesday. Busloads of supporters headed from Jamaica, Astoria, and Bayside to the state capitol to support "fully-funded libraries."

Among the budgetary priorities the Queens Borough Public Library lists for 2004 are the restoration of $12 million in funding, including money to buy 200,000 new books each year-- which would mean about 3,200 more books per branch. The library is also asking for money for programs for after-school children. Another priority is the expansion of six or seven day-per-week service.

Most Queens libraries are closed on weekends. Arverne and Broad Channel, which lost their hours in January, are open 29 hours-per-week, Monday through Friday.

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