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Cooking the books

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Want a decent public library? You'd better hope your library sits in a State Assembly district represented by a Republican.

GOP assemblymembers say they expect to receive an average of $30,000 each for libraries in their own districts. The money is reportedly coming from Gov. George Pataki's own discretionary funds (read: pork barrel) after Assembly Republicans refused to vote for veto overrides that would have restored library aid cut by the Governor. Albion Assemblyman and Republican Minority leader Charles Nesbitt and other Republican members of the assembly insist the two issues are unrelated.

"It sort of defies belief that libraries would be funded this way," says Kathy Miller, Executive Director of the Rochester Regional Library Council. "I mean a library has no control over where it is."

Bill Pontius, director of the Friends of the Rochester Public Library, took it a step further. "It's intellectually dishonest of the governor to say there's a state shortfall that requires him to cut library money and then turn around and hand out money to libraries in Republican districts," he says.

There's more. Despite rising costs, state funding for libraries has remained static since 1997, Pontius and Miller say, and this year's budget actually contains a 5-percent cut. Both also say the hidden victim of these cuts is system services.

The Monroe County Library System is losing $108,186 from a $2.1 million budget that both Republican and Democratic state legislators had assured them was coming, says MCLS Finance Director Kevin Loughran. Their Bookmobile is no longer on the road, and they've seen significant staff reductions, he says. They'll have a difficult time funding things like the transportation costs associated with interlibrary loans, and the costs of computer systems that let users search for books in area libraries. Loughran's also worried about the institutional memory of the libraries he serves, where less funding has meant fewer opportunities for retiring veteran librarians to mentor fresh faces in the library world.

"The library system is collapsing all over the state," Loughran says. Like others around the state, he sees the money as a drop in the ocean of the state's vast budget. New York Library Association Executive Director Michael Borges said the cuts total $4.4 million in a state budget of over $100 billion.

"It's a small amount of money to most people, but it makes a big difference to the libraries," Miller says.

Democratic Assembly Majority Speaker Sheldon Silver told a New York City television station that if the votes were the result of funding promises to GOP Assemblymembers by Pataki --- which he believes is the case --- they would violate state law.

The Albany Times-Union included this definition at the end of a recent article on the issue:

"State Penal Law says a person is guilty of bribery in the second degree --- a Class-C felony --- for giving or offering 'any benefit valued in excess of $10,000 upon a public servant upon an agreement or understanding that such public servant's vote, opinion, judgment, action, decision, or exercise of discretion as a public servant will thereby be influenced.' Accepting a bribe under those circumstances is also a class C felony."


Returning to WRUR...

Two long-standing local radio programs living in a state of virtual limbo during 88.5 WRUR-FM's transition into a partnership with WXXI-FM are returning to the air. The immensely popular soul music show hosted by Scott Wallace and the blues show hosted by Doug Curry are back with new names and new timeslots. Now, listeners can tune in to 88.5 every Saturday to hear The Soul Show from 6 to 8 p.m. followed by The Blues with Doug Curry from 8 to 10 p.m.

According to several WRUR DJs, it appears the station has relegated all community DJs to the weekend hours. And the station has also stopped its summer-long practice of pre-recording radio programs so they can be screened before airing. For background, visit www.rochester-citynews.com and do a search for "WRUR." And keep reading City for future reports on the changes at the station.


The rush to register

Time's almost up. Monroe County Democratic Board of Elections Commissioner Thomas Ferrarese says 1,000 new voter registrations are coming into his office every day. The deadline to register is Friday, October 8, and as usual there's a flood of last-minute voters still registering. Procrastinating isn't unusual, but there's usually "nothing to this level," Ferrarese says. "It gets really, really crazy."

Ferrarese chalks it up to a hotly-contested presidential election this year, something he says always draws out high numbers of new registrants. If you're one of those who meant to register this year and just haven't quite gotten around to it, time's almost up --- but not quite.

You can register in person at the board of elections office until Friday at 5 p.m. (it's on the first floor of the county's downtown office building, 39 W. Main St.), or drop your registration in the mail by that same deadline. Still need to procrastinate? You're in luck. This year the county board of elections is running a last-chance voter drive Saturday, October 9 from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. at its downtown offices, as well as all city libraries and all town halls. You can call 428-4550 for more information.

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