Chartiers library hit hard by lack of funding

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For 45 years, the Chartiers-Houston Community Library in Chartiers has been a fixture in the local community and a favorite gathering spot for neighbors.

Even as usage wanes in some public libraries, the Chartiers-Houston library has remained the go-to place for information and research, attracting dozens of students at a time, ever popular among all age groups.

But this community gem has been threatened with closure due to a lack of funding from the Chartiers-Houston School District, which has kept the library afloat since it was built in 1969.

“We were just told that we weren’t getting any funding this year, that it’s not in the budget,” said Kenneth Britten, a library board member for nine years.

“We wanted to expand the library and get more computers. We were applying for grants and trying to develop a special reference section for special needs people such as disabled veterans, or children with special needs, when we got this dumped on us.”

The library board was informed last month that the district was considering cutting its $50,000 annual donation due to financial issues facing the school district.

School board members met for a budget work session Monday and made little headway with regard to the library funding, district business manager Don Bennett said.

“At this point, it’s not definite,” Mr. Bennett said of the funding cut. “We will be approving the final budget at the June 16 board meeting. We’re still in the budget process right now and we are looking at some personnel furloughs next year.”

Mr. Bennett said the district has been hard hit by escalating special education and pension costs and is looking to cut anything non-mandatory or not directly related to education. Several weeks ago, the district requested permission from the state Department of Education to furlough some employees.

“Our fund balance is dwindling,” he said.

The district this year applied for and received special exceptions from the state Education Department to raise property taxes above the state-mandated cap by as much as 9.0125 mills, one of the highest tax increases ever in the district. The district’s $17.3 million preliminary budget calls for a total property tax rate of 119.5 mills.

The library has a $147,000 annual budget and has relied on donations from the school district, along with $20,000 from the Chartiers and a $1,500 annual donation from the borough of Houston. It gets the rest of its yearly funding through county and state grants and other donations, Mr. Britten said.

The library has already had to cut its staff from seven to about threepart-time workers, he said, and it has tapped a $10,000 line of credit to stay afloat through the end of summer.

“We had been waiting for the funding and we were down to probably $20,000 in the checking account,” Mr. Britten said.

The library has about $30,000 in a certificate of deposit, he said, and after that is exhausted, it may have to close its doors unless volunteers can be found to staff the library.

“We will keep it open as long as we have enough money to pay our utilities,” Mr. Britten said. “We’ll try to keep it open with volunteers.”

Over the years, the library has expanded its summer reading series for children and opened a small cafe area offering tea, snacks and coffee for patrons. It installed automatic doors and replaced windows in recent years with funding from state grants.

Last week, students from Allison Park Elementary School donated 1,400 books to the library’s children’s section. Mr. Britten said the library is used by Chartiers-Houston students and by those in nearby Canonsburg, Cecil, North Strabane and South Strabane.

He and other directors last week sent dozens of letters asking for donations from residents.

The school district formerly used the site for Moninger Elementary School and when that closed, it leased the property to a nonprofit group that raised funds to build the library. The district has never charged the library rent and it maintains the property with grass cutting a snow removal. Since 2000, it has given the library more than $730,000, Mr. Bennett estimated.

Mr. Bennett said he felt it was unlikely that the board would change its mind, though he said the district values the library as a community asset.

“This is a step that we’ve never had to take before,“ he said. ”As it stands right now, it’s been eliminated.”

Janice Crompton: or 412-263-1159.

Janice Crompton: or 412-263-1159.

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