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Libraries seek $2.25 million increase in operating budget to align with capital improvements

New Castle County
New Castle Libraries

In 2022, Gov. John Carney announced $40 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for new construction and renovations in nine libraries across the state, along with $26.8 million in state funding to match the federal funding for five new libraries.

But in the past 10 years, the Delaware library standards budget has increased about $2 million, and library stakeholders argue it’s not enough.

Carney is recommending a $150,000 increase to the library standards, but the libraries are requesting $2.25 million, something Friends of Delaware Libraries President Kay Bowes says is necessary for staffing, supplies and energy costs.

"We have a lot more space, we have more libraries... and the state aid has not kept up with what is happening with libraries today... We have been asking for more for several years and getting little bits at a time, but we are at the stage now where we really need to get up to date with the state aid and what’s happening in our libraries," Bowes says.

Chair of the Delaware Library Association’s Legislative Action Committee Catherine Wimberly agrees with Bowes, saying the libraries are fortunate to have received such capital investments, but need a standards increase to maintain them.

“We need greater operating costs in order to maximize the benefits of that construction that’s taken place, of the services that we’ve increased," Wimberly added.

The library’s requested operating increase would bring the state standards budget to around $8.5 million for fiscal year 25.

Wimberly says without the increase funds, programming will become much harder to sustain.

"We try to offer a lot of different programs and resources that cater to all ages, abilities and interests. It really limits our ability to do that if you don't have the funding to support staff and the programming behind it."

Additionally, Delaware Council on Libraries member Candace Vessella told the Joint Finance Committee county contribution increases have been outpacing the state's funding.

“The counties fund 85% of library operating costs, and their contributions have increased over the years as the cost of library operations has increased. The state portion has remained relatively flat over the last 10 years," Vessella says.

She says the multimillion-dollar increase is necessary to bring the library operating funding in alignment with Bond Bill investments, as well as future investments.

Carney is recommending just over $6.5 million in the FY25 bond bill for additional renovations in eight libraries statewide.

Delaware library standards budget over the years:

2014: $4,296,900

2022: $4,965,600

2023: $5,715,600 - $750,000 increase from 2022

2024: $6,215,600 - $500,000 increase from 2023

2025: $6,365,600 recommended - $150,000 increase from 2024

Before residing in Dover, Delaware, Sarah Petrowich moved around the country with her family, spending eight years in Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 years in Carbondale, Illinois and four years in Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2023 with a dual degree in Journalism and Political Science.
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