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Pa. budget impasse forces temporary closure of Jeannette Public Library

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Margie Stanislaw | For Trib Total Media
Elaine Smith and Angela Betz are familiar faces at the front desk of Jeannette Public Library. Due to the state budget impasse, the library is struggling for funding and will be closed until Jan. 5.

Due to the budget impasse in Harrisburg and other funding problems, the Jeannette Library closed yesterday and will remain closed until Jan. 5.

The state budget impasse, which has been ongoing since July, is responsible for funds currently withheld from libraries and other services in the commonwealth.

Libraries all over Pennsylvania are experiencing significant financial difficulties, including the Westmoreland Federated Library System of which Jeannette is a member. According to the website, the Westmoreland Federated Library System was formed in 1993, with the purpose of obtaining funds for 24 local libraries.

The library made application for a business loan in early November which would have enabled the library to operate until the state funds were released according to Hope Sehring, librarian.

“We can’t see ahead. There is not a word from the governor’s office. All is quiet and we are hearing nothing. Planning is very difficult. We made our own decision to get a loan since we are hearing nothing. The money is out there somewhere; the question is when we will get it. They (the state) could also reduce the amount,” said Sehring.

But, library board secretary Joann Billheimer said that the loan application was denied last week, and at a special board meeting last Thursday, the board made a decision to close the library until January.

“We hated to do this. It was a very sad meeting. We don’t have the funds and we didn’t get the bank loan. We depend a lot on donations and our donations have been down. Many of our major supporters were older and have passed away,” said Billheimer.

Two library employees resigned this year and in an effort to save costs, the board made a decision not to replace them, but it was still not enough to keep the doors open according to Billheimer, who was quick to stress volunteers are a great help but qualified staff is still crucial.

“You have to have expert people working at the library because of the computer system,” said Billheimer.

The annual budget for 2015 for the library is $154,880. A large portion of the money comes from state reimbursement and the remainder comes from grants and fundraising activities. Sehring and the library board started the “Jeannette 100” in 2010, which is an annual, direct-mail fundraising campaign. Volunteers, over three separate time periods throughout the year, mail out a total of 20,000 letters to reach potential donors and educate them on the library. Recognition is given to anyone who contributes.

“The first year we raised $30,000. That was our best year. This year, as of September we raised $7,830 which is low, but we aren’t done with the year yet,” said Sehring.

Now that the doors are closing early, the library’s Christmas giving tree is not going up and donation letters are not going to be mailed out in December. Losing these two fundraisers hurts the library’s financial situation even more.

In November, the Citizens for Jeannette Public Library made close to $1,000 for the library with a luncheon fundraiser at the Texas Roadhouse.

The group also had “Enjoy” coupon books available for sale at the library, but closing the doors affects this fundraiser, too.

The financial picture for the library is bleak.

“We have no reserves. We used it up. It is a shame when the only free thing in Jeannette is closed.

“We have a lot of elderly people who rely on us and there are a lot of people who use our computers. This is temporary, but we can’t stay open on ifs,” said Billheimer.

Anyone interested in donating to the library can mail the donation to the Jeannette Public Library at 500 Magee Ave., Jeannette, PA 15644.

Margie Stanislaw is a contributing writer.

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