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Officials eye private funds for libraries County board weighs idea for endowment to improve facilities; 'Tax dollars can't do it all'; Other money sources sought after threat of large budget cuts


Carroll library officials, looking to boost money for books, materials, services and activities, are weighing the creation of an endowment.

"Basically, we're looking at the future," said Ann Wisner, a library spokeswoman. "The [library] board is exploring a long-term strategy regarding finances."

Nationwide, more libraries and their supporters are establishing funds to supplement the public money they get. Many, such as the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, were established through private philanthropy. About five years ago, the Pratt hired a full-time fund-raiser.

"Libraries are indeed looking to raise more funds from private sources," said Linda Wallace, director of public information for the American Library Association. "This is the information age. Library services are in demand, and tax dollars can't do it all. The extra money is needed to do the job."

The Carroll County Public Library board's consideration of an endowment comes just a few months after county officials threatened to cut the library system's budget by $644,525, or 14 percent, this fiscal year, which began July 1. Such a funding loss would have meant the elimination of 30 library jobs and a reduction in library hours.

The County Commissioners eventually cut the library's budget by just $100,000 or 2.2 percent after raising Carroll's property tax to fund government services. The library system, which includes administrative offices and five branches, has an annual budget of about $4.5 million.

Wisner cautioned that an endowment would not replace the library's operating budget, but supplement expenses.

"It's a new idea. It has lots of possibilities," she said.

Robert Sapora, a library board member and professor at Western Maryland College, said the board is looking at two basic ways that libraries can raise supplemental money, but probably won't make any decisions until at least the fall.

One way would be to have an independent organization form to raise money for the library, the way a booster club supports a high school band.

Another way is for the library to charge for some supplemental services, although the basic access would remain free.

The libraries in Carroll have patron loyalty in their favor: they have the highest per capita use of any in the state.

During the budget hearings, Sapora said, "People said 'If the library is short of money, I wouldn't mind paying $5 or $10 a year for my library card.' We needed to inform everyone who made that offer that the state legislature forbids [that]. It's a free public library system, and for good reason."

But that doesn't mean a library can't create some additional services and charge fees for them, he said.

Library officials are working with the Community Foundation of Carroll County to explore the creation of an endowment that would accept donations from library patrons.

Audrey Cimino, foundation executive director, described how the endowment could be structured at the library board's last meeting. Library Director Linda Mielke is "very interested" in the fund, she said.

"Basically, an endowment is money put aside for a particular purpose or a general purpose. This agency has decided they want to put something away for the future," Cimino said.

"[The libraries] are very dependent on the money that is coming from government agencies. And they have to buy books, supplies, pay employees, and the money, well, it gets used up," she said. "When you are under budget restraints, it's nice to have another source of income."

That's where the endowment fund comes in. Cimino said the money can be invested and the library can earn interest on the money while maintaining a stable account.

Cimino's group would administer the endowment in exchange for an annual 1 percent fee.

The library board agreed to have Mielke work with Cimino to draft guidelines for designating how the money would be invested and used, Cimino said.

"The board can do pretty much what it wants to do. Usually, groups will put the money away and decide not to touch the principal," she said. "That way they will always have this pot of money there."

Wisner cited advantages in working with the foundation, especially since the endowments administered by the foundation are managed by the Trust Division of the Carroll County Bank and Trust Co.

"Trust officers at the bank could make their clients aware of the library as an appropriate recipient of funds," she said.

The library already can accept private donations. Eldersburg lawyer Kenneth Holniker contributes regularly to a restricted fund he created in memory of his late wife, M. Peggy Holniker, a library board member.

This year, he contributed $1,000. The money is not mingled with operating budget, and is used for purchases to benefit children at the Eldersburg branch, Wisner said.

Pub Date: 8/06/96

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