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Library chief asks for more money Tells Falls Council costs continue to rise

Niagara Falls Library Executive Director Betty Babanoury appeared before the City Council on Tuesday and asked for more money.

Babanoury told the Council that the library has worked to keep the doors open to its two branches with limited funding during the last two years, but the costs of running the facilities continue to rise.

City leaders are considering giving the library a 2.8 percent increase next year -- a budget hike Babanoury worries may not be enough.

She will soon meet with Mayor-elect Paul A. Dyster to discuss the library's future.

Dyster said he plans to meet with Babanoury within the next few weeks as part of a series of meetings he is holding with city officials to develop policy goals as he prepares to transition into the office of mayor in January.

"Cities have responsibilities to fund libraries, and you can't foist that off on anybody else," Dyster said when asked about the library. "It's one of the core missions of a city. It's part of the reason why we have cities."

Dyster said he has not yet had a chance to look at the existing financial situation of the library and fell short of saying exactly what type of funding he thinks the facility should receive.

"I see a role for the library that goes beyond just being a repository of books, but is an institution that's going to help us generally keep up with the changing economy and the ways that we spread information," Dyster said. "You have to provide some minimal access to information to every one of our citizens."

Mayor Vince Anello has also expressed support for the library, but his administration clashed with the library in 2005 after he and the Council passed a budget that cut $1 million from the library's funding. The library sued the city and eventually obtained additional funding.

Since then, Anello and the City Council have given the library about $1.62 million each year to run its Main Street and LaSalle branches.

City leaders must finalize the 2008 budget by Dec. 15, before Dyster takes office. The Council sent a revised city budget back to Anello on Tuesday with no change to the library's $1.67 million proposed allotment that increases library expenses by 2.8 percent.

However, the Council has created a $235,957 contingency line for the entire city budget to give lawmakers flexibility when Dyster takes office in January.

Babanoury submitted a budget request to the city of $1.8 million for 2008. Increasing technology costs and security expenses were two of the items she cited Tuesday that could rise next year.

Other increasing expenses, such as raises for union employees and rising energy costs, were already factored into the library's proposed budget, said City Controller Maria Brown.

Babanoury said the library has worked to trim expenses since she arrived 13 years ago. For example, she said the LaSalle Branch once operated for 30 hours a week with seven employees. Today, she said, the branch is open 51 hours and is staffed by the equivalent of three full-time employees.

"Every time we're told to make cuts, we do, but now we're at a situation where we can't cut any more," Babanoury said. "We're fully aware of all the struggles the city is having, and this is why we're trying to do our best."

Libraries throughout the Buffalo Niagara region have faced similar cutbacks.

The three-county Nioga Library System -- which includes 21 libraries in Niagara, Orleans and Genesee counties -- has reduced services to its member libraries in recent years and is still facing a projected deficit of $165,000 in its $1.15 million budget next year, said Executive Director Tom Bindeman.

The last permanent annual increase Nioga received from the state was in 1998, Bindeman said.

"I'm not optimistic," Bindeman said. "Naturally we work with local and state politicians, but we normally have to beg for money."

The Nioga system budget pays for services that support its member libraries, which are funded by their own communities. Bindeman said the Nioga member libraries are facing a variety of budget situations -- from small budget increases to flat spending plans.

The Niagara Falls Library serves as the central library for the Nioga system.

Library struggles in a troubled economy are not unusual, Bindeman said.

"When things slow down, library use goes up, but funding will probably go down," Bindeman said. "So it's a double whammy."

e-mail: djewell@buffnews.com

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