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Our view: Permanent solution must be found for library funding

Something remarkable happened last month.

In this age of austerity and cutbacks, members of the Washington County Board learned there is the possibility for expansion of services at its public libraries.

Earlier this year, board members were forced to close two small branches and constricted hours at all the others, including the county's biggest - Woodbury's R.H. Stafford Branch.

But at a July meeting, the county's top library official said it's possible to breathe more life back into the five largest libraries. The proposal, which would be part of the 2013 budget, would restore hours at those locations - which include the Stafford branch. That would include re-opening those branches on Mondays; county libraries that had remained open after the cuts were taken down to Tuesday- through-Saturday service.

We can't help but be heartened by this turn of events. It's hard to see one of the most appreciated public amenities whittled away as we witnessed earlier this year.

Just as city parks go toward the exercise and leisure element of that critical quotient we call "quality of life," public libraries feed the other side of the equation by providing public access to vital information and intellectual stimulation. That's not to mention the services provided by way of child storytimes or community workshops.

Restoring hours at the library holds much promise, but there is caution to be heeded as we look to future budget cycles.

Washington County Administrator Molly O'Rourke warned that the funds poised to become available for boosted hours in 2013 represent a one-time infusion. Money to pay for the proposed plan comes from unexpected Property Records and Taxpayer Services Department revenue and possible savings that could be culled by delaying a computer system upgrade.

After those funds run out, the county is back where it started: turning to the axe.

We urge county leaders to find a responsible way to develop a sustainable funding mechanism for libraries like R.H. Stafford Branch so they can continue to serve the public more, not less.