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Library advocates continue protest against proposed budget cuts

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Photo by Jason Ruiter. Prince George's County Memorial Library System workers attend the Feb. 12 budget hearing at Laurel High School.

Photo by Jason Ruiter. Prince George's County Memorial Library System workers attend the Feb. 12 budget hearing at Laurel High School.

Published on: Thursday, February 14, 2013

By Jason Ruiter

More than 30 yellow-shirted library employees protested the proposed 5- to 15-percent budget cuts, which County Executive Rushern Baker has large influence over, Tuesday at a budget hearing at Laurel High School.

Due to lower property assessments in Prince George’s County and increases in county expenditures, the proposed 2014 budget has a projected $152 million deficit.

Before entering the assembly hall, librarians gathered in a circle in the spirit of an athletic team, all wearing yellow United Food and Commercial Workers, or “UCFW,” shirts. They hollered in a good-spirited mock cheer upon Baker’s entrance in the auditorium, as Baker smiled amicably back.

“We’re here to listen to you,” Baker said, “Revenues in the county are flat. Your comments will weigh on what we do with the limited resources of the county.”

Former District 4 councilman Tom Dernoga recited alternatives to pay for the deficit instead of cutting library funds.

“An increase of double the typical base amount raises questions about out-of-control expenditures. … Start reducing expenses now,” Dernoga said.

Dernoga, who is also president of the Friends of the Laurel Library, told Baker that the Laurel branch will have to dip into the reserve and business funds. He also asked the county executive to scale back capital improvement plans in order to retain the AAA bond rating and low-interest rates.

“They already know this stuff,” Dernoga said, speaking with the Prince George’s Sentinel after the hearing.

Baker showed no sign of agitation at the several librarians who spoke during the hearing and appeared to be listening intently to their comments.

Prince George’s libraries have a budget of $25.4 million, about 1 percent of the entire county’s budget, according to Josh Ardison, Prince George’s County Memorial Library System union representative. The public library system’s 2013 budget was increased 6.8 percent from the previous year, but the money went to staffing the new Bowie Branch Library with 12 full-time employees.

Prince George’s County libraries have been cut a total of 24 percent since 2008. Since then, library usage has risen 11 percent, Ardison said.

Eileen Taddonio, a library employee in the county for 25 years, said increased library patronage is partially caused by the recession. Libraries are a way to obtain free resources, especially Wi-Fi.

“People are there all day long searching for jobs on the Wi-Fi,” Taddonio said.

Taddonio says it’s not just about keeping their paychecks, which haven’t risen in the past five years, but it’s also about preserving the community.

“I read to little children,” Taddonio said, who added that she read to children’s parents when they were just kids.

Other residents spoke, asking Baker not to forget the Latin American youth center, First Generation College Bound, Lovely Ladies of Laurel, the county animal shelter and $100,000 for High Point High School, the oldest school in the county, which residents said had a dilapidating infrastructure, in the writing of the budget.

Baker will work on the budget before he gives it the County Council to review. Two more budget hearings will be held by the County Council in May.

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