Bellwood-Antis library officials fear worst with funding cuts looming

As state officials continue to gaze over the un-approved state budget, library directors across the commonwealth are sitting on pins and needles waiting to see how much, if any, state funding will be coming their way.
That’s exactly the situation at the Bellwood-Antis Public Library. Library Director Hazel Bilka and treasurer Perry Haupt recently sat down with The Daily Herald to speak about what the library is doing in these financially pressed times.
“Our main message to the people of the Bellwood-Antis area is that we need to see some relief by the end of this month or our local library board is faced with drastically cutting services,” said Haupt. “We’re extremely proud to have a community that supports a local library, but with the state budget still in limbo and talks of major funding cuts to libraries, our visitors need to understand that we may be forced to cut some things.
“We don’t want to do it. But we may have to.”
According to Bilka, state libraries received an enormous boost years ago when then Gov. Tom Ridge required all publicly funded libraries to increase services offered to the general public. This included additional staff, longer open hours and more books, magazines and newspapers to choose from.
Years ago, and when state money was coming in regularly, the libraries prospered.
But now, with the same regulations in place, libraries all across the state fear a reduction in services simply because they can’t afford to keep up.
“In our budget, one-third of all the money we use to operate had come from the state,” said Bilka. “Now we’re learning there may be a 50 percent cut of that funding, and a possibility of losing it all. We’ll not be able to function as we have been with funds like that.”
The B-A Public Library operates in a fiscal year status. Bilka said the wranglings over the state budget and lack of state funding would have impacted the library more if they were working with a January to January budget year.
Still, she said, the library is about $12,500 behind what it normally receives from the state. Last year, the B-A library received a total of $47,000 from the commonwealth.
Bilka explained the impact of the lack of funding has been slight, noting she hasn’t been able to purchase as many books and other reading material as she may have liked; however, greater impact may loom on the horizon.
She said if the state doesn’t pass a budget with the same allotments given to local libraries as in the past, “drastic cuts” such as fewer hours, lessen the number of staff members, and purchase fewer books, magazines and newspapers.
If there is no funding at all set aside, Bilka and Haupt both noted that small libraries all across the commonwealth will have to close.
“We’re really worried about how this will impact the education,” said Haupt. “Right now, we have a great relationship with the Bellwood-Antis School District, offering services that tie directly into what they do inside the walls of the school.”
In addition, Bilka said the library is also losing funding through the Blair County United Way. In the past few years, the United Way’s funding dries have come up short of their goals. Because of this, the United Way has re-structured how it goes about disbursing funding. Now, United Way agency members, such as the B-A Public Library, must fill out applications and “compete” for this funding, which was always a guaranteed, yearly allotment.
In previous years, the B-A Public Library has received $4,700 from United Way. Last year, that number was cut drastically to $2,700. No one knows even if any money will come Bellwood’s way in 2004.
According to Haupt, library officials have been writing local and state government representatives asking for some relief. Recently, Haupt drafted a letter to Sen. Robert C. Jubelirer explaining how the proposed budget cuts would effect the Bellwood-Antis Public Library.
Sen. Jubelirer responded: “From the moment in March when Gov. Rendell revealed his intention to seriously reduce state funding for local libraries, I indicated my support for restoration of funding. To my knowledge, there has not been a good reason offered for why libraries were targeted for such a heavy cut, an action even more mystifying considering that education is one of the keystones of the Governor’s efforts.
“Libraries are essential institutions in our communities, and we cannot afford to forfeit the progress in upgrading services and expanding hours realized during the Ridge Administration.”
In closing his letter, Jubelirer said: “No one can predict when or how this dispute over spending and taxes will be finally resolved, but I can assure you that the needs of our local libraries have not been forgotten.
Haupt and Bilka suggests those residents who feel the importance of a local, public library is worth the effort, to contact a local or state representative to voice their concern.
State Rep. Jerry Stern can be reached at 210 Ryan Office Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120-2020 or by calling 717-787-9020. Sen. Robert Jubelirer can be reached at Senate Box 203030, Harrisburg, PA 17120-2020 or by calling 717-787-5490 or Honorable Richard Geist can be contacted at Main Capitol Building, Room 144, Harrisburg, PA 17120-2020 or by calling 717-787-6419.