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Voters: 'R' Is for Referendum to Support Carnegie Libraries

The future of the Carnegie Library system, including the Brookline branch, will be determined by the support of voters in the Nov. 8 general election.

On Election Day, Brookline voters, as well as others in Pittsburgh, will get to decide if a strong library system, including the , is worth a few more dollars in taxes a month.

A referendum has been placed on the Nov. 8 ballot asking the question: "Shall a 0.25 mills special tax be imposed by the City of Pittsburgh on all taxable real estate in the city of Pittsburgh effective Jan. 1, 2012 and thereafter, the proceeds of which shall be allocated and used only for the maintenance and operation of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh?"

If the question is approved by voters, a tax equivalent to $25 a year on each $100,000 of assessed value will be levied on all real estate in the city. A "yes" vote will be in support of the proposal.

The issue boils down to the fact that Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh cannot maintain all its branches without new revenue. The money it receives from the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD), state and private donations is not keeping pace with the maintenance cost.

While Andrew Carnegie, the Pittsburgh industrialist, provided the seed money for the library buildings, he did not endow their operations. He felt the community should support such a vital resource, according to Our Library, Our Future literature.

"Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is the cornerstone of all our neighborhoods," said Jake Pawlak, who is involved in the Our Library, Our Future community-based initiative to raise awareness about the need to provide financial support for the library and its services.

Pawlak said the additional revenue is needed to provide books, movies, music, resources to help people find jobs, offering computers and Internet access, programming for children and adults, and other services.

Just a few years ago, after reviewing a five-year projection, the library board made a decision to close four branches—Beechview, West End, Hazelwood and Lawrenceville, according to Suzanne Thinnes, communications manager for Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

"The community was outraged by that decision," Thinnes said.

As a result, a public-private task force was created and charged with the task of developing sustainable library funding. Nineteen options were whittled down to six, including a referendum for maintenance and operation.

Over the past several months, more than 200 volunteers, including more than 30 from the Brookline, Beechview and Overbrook neighborhoods, have been working to support the library initiative. They helped to gather some 11,000 names on a petition to include the referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot, and gone door to door to ask residents to sign cards pledging to vote "yes" on Election Day, Thinnes said.

"In Brookline, in particular, we've gotten a very positive response," Pawlak said.

Some are writing letters to the editor, and some are simply getting out and talking to garner support among their neighbors. Others will be working the polls on Election Day to remind people to vote in favor of the referendum.

"Everyone has a different way they use the library," Thinnes said, noting that each person makes a personal connection with the services offered.

For more information or to volunteer, visit www.OurlibraryOurfuture.org or email jake@OurlibraryOurfuture.org.

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