The February 18th Library Board of Trustees meeting had the mostly new board ask questions regarding not only the current year’s budget but the outlook for years to come.
Roselle Park Veterans Memorial Library Director Susan Calantone, Library Board President Pat Butler, and Councilwoman-At-Large Charlene Storey met with Borough Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Ken Blum earlier in the month to go over the library’s 2015 budget. The amount was reduced from an initial $430,425 request to a $390,000 operating budget. It is to be noted that roughly $345,000 goes to salaries, social security, and health benefits.
With $343,875.75 being the mandatory amount that is guaranteed to the library by the state through property taxes, the municipality allotted $21,125.75, and the library used $25,000 of its surplus to arrive at the $390,000 figure. Cuts were proposed in convention dues, books-on-tape, supplies, the Buildings & Grounds line item, and electric.
An initial surplus of around $129,000 in 2013 – according to the CFO – was reduced by $32,000 to cover 2014’s actual expenses of $423,000. It will now have an additional $25,000 used for this year’s budget, bringing the projected surplus to around $72,000.
Councilwoman-At-Large Storey stated at the start of the discussion, “I think there are some record keeping changes that might be helpful so you can see month-by-month where you’re at in terms of spending, in terms of each line item, and in terms of spending in general because if the Board decides to go with that budget to take $25,000 out of surplus, there won’t always be $25,000 in surplus. The budget needs to be looked over by you folks and you need to make [those] decisions on where you’re going with the budget and what will be done . . . We need to have a better grasp of where these numbers are coming from in the future.”
When proposed a line item summary spreadsheet to use, Mrs. Calantone responded, “The library doesn’t have to itemize everything. We do that so we know what we’re doing and to keep a guideline. A lot of the departments have to itemize and then have to stay within that item we don’t, we just get the bulk money . . . What we’ll do is we’ll put the new figures here on the proposed budget and this way – going forward – we can see how much we’re spending in each line item but we can take out from each line. We don’t have to stay within that line budget.”
Newly elected Board Treasurer Sundjata Sekou talked about the close to $60,000 shortfall between last year’s budget and actual expenses, asking, “As the director, how is that going to affect the library going forward? . . . What’s going to be different this year compared to what the library experienced last year? Because even if we switch around certain things form one line item to another, we’re still looking at a cut.”
The Library Director responded, “That’s a good question. It’s still going to be difficult to maintain everything but we’ll try. That’s all I can say.”
Councilwoman Storey mentioned that this year’s amount requested by the Library Director of an initial $430,000 was a significant increase.
“I also threw in a lot of stuff not knowing if we were going to get capital,” Mrs. Calantone added. She was notified that things such as furniture, should not come from the operating budget and need to, instead, be put into a capital budget request.
In trying to explain the library’s current funding issues, Mrs. Calantone remarked, ” I just want to make one thing clear. What happened was [that] previously . . . we weren’t expected to pay medical and pension and then we were told we had to pay medical and pension which put a big burden on the library so that is what caused our bottom line to be so much more.”
Mrs. Calantone later stated that around 80% of Union County libraries pay into their health and pension.
Former Mayor Joseph DeIorio, who is on the Board and was the Board Treasurer last year, stated that the reason for that was because surplus balances back then were in the neighborhood of $160,000.
Board Secretary Dexter De La Cruz summarized, “The reality is we need some level of analysis to determine how that fits against . . . Susan’s expectations of bills [that] she has to pay every month for the next 11 months.”
“What do you want me to do?”, asked Mrs. Calantone.
Newly appointed Board member Rashmi Sheth suggested having an ‘Expected Average’ line item and ‘Actual Cost’ line item, explaining, “Just put two lines with an average for the last five years.”
In touching upon the shrinking surplus, Mrs. Calantone commented,”I just want to say that one of the reasons we had this big surplus is because when I first got here we were really, really conservative and we managed to save the money and I’ve always been told you should save the surplus. But once you have the surplus, it becomes ‘you have to spend it’ and the bottom line is I like having a little cushion in case something happens in the library. Now that we have the surplus that we worked hard for, it’s almost like it’s used against you. Yes, we should use it but it’s also nice to have a surplus.”
Mr. DeIorio paused before saying, “We have a difference of opinion.”
Mrs. Calantone tried to expand on her statement by stating, “Well, I think a surplus should be . . .”
“Reasonable,” was the one word answer from Mr. DeIorio. He continued, “What we also did those years was to take a very hard look at . . . comparative increases granted with the salaries here versus what was granted at the borough and there was disparity.”
Mrs. Calantone defended her position, saying “Well, there’s always disparity. We didn’t get our raise a few years ago like the town did.”
Mr. DeIorio tried to end the tangent discussion by concluding, “If the board would like to entertain a discussion about history, I’ll be more than happy to do that at another meeting . . . to provide a different perspective.”
“It’s funny,” Mrs. Calantone continued, “When it’s the other people, it’s worse but when it was us that didn’t get the raise then it wasn’t an issue.”
The former mayor concluded by saying, “It was worse . . . The bottom line is that with the recommendation that’s proposed, putting your budget together, what changes, if any, do we have to make?”
Mr. DeIorio presented scenarios that ranged from staffing changes to changes in hours to purchases for books to point out that there are different levels of impact.
Mrs. Sheth concluded the discussion by stressing the need for a working budget, “We need a benchmark to compare it with basically.”
At the current rate of use, if $25,000 is taken from surplus every year to cover expenses, it will be completely depleted by 2018.
The next Library Board of Trustees meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 18th, at 7 p.m. at the Roselle Park Veterans Memorial Library.