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A new proposal to protect Erie County's threatened libraries -- and fund them in the future -- is on the table, submitted by regionalism advocate Kevin P. Gaughan.

Libraries in the county could be funded in part by private money through creation of a tax-incentive program to reward businesses with tax breaks if they "adopt" local libraries and help fund them, Gaughan said.

"It's time to stop lamenting the potential loss of our treasured libraries, and do something about it," said Gaughan..

Gaughan said Erie County will not have the cash to support the 52-branch system in the future unless government is "right-sized." That makes finding private funds for libraries crucial, he said.

"We have to entice local businesses to lend a hand. What could be more appealing to us than a local company supporting a public library? That would win them a lot of good will," Gaiughan said.

At the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, officials said they were open to studying new ideas for funding, but seemed skeptical that Gaughan's plan would offer substantial help for the $30 million-a-year system.

"There's always going to be a need for public support of a public institution," said Library Director Michael C. Mahaney. "That doesn't mean we can't and shouldn't and wouldn't approach private companies for support, and that we won't be doing that in the future."

All of Erie County's 52 library branches are threatened with closure Jan. 1 under a "red budget" proposed by County Executive Joel A. Giambra that would cut funding to the library system by more than 80 percent. That estimate factors in reductions in state aid that would result from slashed county funding.

Gaughan sent his proposal to Legislature Chairman George A. Holt Jr., D-Buffalo, on Tuesday. He also outlined it Tuesday evening in a speech to the Erie County Association of Librarians.

The proposal is modeling in part on PILOT programs, or "payments in lieu of taxes," which are used to benefit businesses, Gaughan said.

Similar approaches -- where companies "adopt" and support an entity -- have worked with needy public schools, he said.

The United States has a long history, going back to Benjamin Franklin's day, of public-private collaboration when it comes to supporting libraries, Gaughan said. Franklin asked wealthy Philadelphians to help support that city's early library system, he said.


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