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Protect the libraries Erie County Legislature should act to make fund-diversion ban permanent

On Thursday, the Erie County Legislature has a chance to set into permanent place legal protection for the county's library system. The decision should be unanimous.

The Legislature will vote on the Library Protection Act, first adopted in 1992 and renewed for two-year periods with the exception of 1999. Over the years, legislators have been able to gain credit for generously granting renewal, even at the price of future uncertainty. That uncertainty should now end.

Benefits of the legislation are clear: no surprise midyear reductions in library funding, and any county tax revenue going to the libraries appears as a separate item on residents' tax bills. Affording the system protection against unexpected midyear diversions of funding isn't even much of a policyissue for the Legislature -- that need stems from a court ruling, and the biannual renewal system is simply compliance with that mandate.

Making the Library Protection Act permanent would solidify the response to bad practices in the 1980s, when library officials would sometimes see their budget dwindle against other county priorities. The Library Protection Act offers assurance, an important point for a system with an adopted 2007 budget of $22.2 million, a half million dollars more than this year's budget.

Library officials have done an excellent job in responding to recent fiscal blows. Library buildings have become community hubs, giving young people a place to go. The new Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library on Jefferson Avenue is drawing crowds and has the second-highest computer use of the entire 37-branch system, behind the Central Library. And there are similar stories across the county.

The 14-year policy of requiring renewals of the Library Protection Act should end this week. Replace the renewal requirement with permanent legal protection.

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