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Library head airs concerns about funds

The director of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library system said Friday that it is taking in more visitors and loaning more materials, but that financial clouds are darkening for 2011 and beyond without increases in financial support from the county and state.

"As economic vitality decreases, library use increases. That's a historical trend," Bridget Quinn-Carey said in her annual State of the Library Address, in which she nonetheless predicted a dynamic future for a system that counted 3.2 million visits in 2008. That's more than three visits for every man, woman and child in Erie County.

Quinn-Carey spoke to state and county officials at a legislative breakfast preceding her speech in the Central Library, and some county lawmakers emerged sympathetic to the library's looming financial concerns.

Erie County dramatically cut library support during the mid-decade budget crisis, restored aid in later years but then lowered the sum to about $22 million for this year on the theory that the system can dip into its reserve accounts, a strategy that Quinn-Carey said cannot be continued for years to come.

"The library is using significant levels of cash reserves to balance the 2009 and projected 2010 budgets," she said. "We will not have the reserves to do this to the same degree in 2011 and beyond.

"Revenue is static or shrinking, expenses are on the rise. This is an issue our board is already discussing, and will develop plans to address this issue over the next months and years so we can avoid a crisis," she said.

Working in the system's favor: The library's allocation for 2012 will be set in 2011, an election year for county lawmakers and the county executive.

"As long as the funding they are looking for from the county is the last dollar in, and not the first dollar, then hopefully we can help them out," said Legislator Raymond W. Walter, R-Amherst, expressing Republican County Executive Chris Collins' philosophy about aid to outside groups.

Collins has said he wants organizations to seek other sources of money so that their county dollars can be used to expand their offerings, not simply pay ordinary operating expenses. But Collins most often expresses that wish when speaking about the museums, theaters and performing arts venues that collect smaller amounts of county dollars.

"It's nice that she tells us in advance," said another lawmaker, Thomas J. Mazur, D-Cheektowaga, who attended the breakfast. "She didn't try to scare us. She didn't say we are going to have to close branches."

Collins' proposal for library support should be known in coming weeks, when he proposes his budget for 2010 sometime on or before Oct. 15. However, the four-year financial plan he has given the state-appointed control board projects no increase in library aid.

Quinn-Carey, who became the director in March 2008, said the library system has been collecting more money from donors.

Meanwhile, as part of its mission, the library will continue to promote literacy through several programs; it will encourage job seekers to use the libraries to develop resumes and sharpen their skills; and it will herald its collection of rare and historic items as another way to establish Erie County as a cultural destination.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com

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