“They need to have a $400,000 library? To me, I don’t get it.”
In a nutshell, it is this partial quote by 3rd Ward Councilwoman Tanya Torres taken from a larger discussion that started an entire back and forth between the councilwoman, the Roselle Park Veterans Memorial Library, its patrons, and Roselle Park residents. Through phone calls, e-mails, in-person exchanges, Facebook posts, municipal workshop public portion comments, and comments from the dais, the core of what was said, what was meant, what was heard, what was implied, and what was inferred played itself out for the past month.
During the January 17, 2012 Municipal Budget Workshop, the discussion of the RPVM Library’s budget, which is dependent on the municipality’s tax evaluation, was on the agenda.
By way of a brief overview, The State of New Jersey mandates that a certain portion of any municipality’s budget be allocated for its library. Funding for public libraries is linked to property values since the dedicated portion of a municipal budget which must be reserved for library purposes is 1/3 of a mil (not million). A third of a mil equals 33 cents on a $1,000 of assessed value – or in Roselle Park’s case that is relayed as $21.67 for every house assessed at $65,000.
The library minimum contribution for 2012 in Roselle Park is $386,240.83, which is a decrease of $23,021.57 from 2011. Last year’s mandated funding was $409,263. This decrease is further compounded by an increase in health benefits for the library which, until 2010, used to be financially handled by the municipality.
Mayor Joe Accardi commented on the matter, “Last year, they [the library] took over a lot of the things that we had been paying for previously and it was really tight for them. I don’t foresee that they’ll be able to do it and maintain the hours of operation with an additional $23,000 cut so it’s something we need to consider whether we want to give them a little extra over and above the minimum we’re required to give them.”
First Ward Councilman Andrew Casais, who was the Library Board of Trustees President last year added, “Last year, it was tight . . . I certainly wouldn’t advise this council to add anything more. Let’s not add pension . . . because they really won’t be able to handle it at this point and it’s not because they’re paying for a ton of other things, it’s because they’ve absorbed full medical costs for 12 months. There may be some other areas they can cut but at that point it gets to be what are we really doing there? Are we just saving money or are we providing a service?”
Councilman Michael Yakubov asked what the amount of the library’s budget surplus. It was noted at that meeting that it was around $116,000 at the end of 2010 but, according to Councilman Casais, in three or four years there will not be a surplus since the library will have to pay for medical and social security and more and more will be taken out of the surplus to pay for costs.
The mayor discussed how the library took some measures to cut back costs by changing the staffing and work hours. He concluded by stating, “I think we need to take a look at and figure out how we’re going to make the library run efficiently with us probably having to provide a little bit over the statutory minimum.”
It was then that councilwoman Torres made her comments that have become a matter of debate. She had asked for figures on how many patrons check out books regularly; figures which she stated she did not receive. When councilman Casais inquired about whom she asked, the councilwoman remarked that Board member Laura Hahn was asked. The councilwoman then stated, “I’m going to help her [Hahn] with something that came up at the last council meeting; some recommendations – some ideas – I had regarding our antiquated library and the possibility of joining forces with the Board Of Ed and not having that library.”
The councilwoman added, “I don’t see the need for six (6) libraries in a one-mile town; perhaps because I did grow up partially in Garwood . . . and we didn’t have our own library in town. We went to the schools and if you needed something more you went to Cranford. Now, you go online. So, they need to have a $400,000 library? To me, I don’t get it. I know there’s plenty of library – well not plenty – there’s about 30 library dwellers in town, I’m sure, that will picket my home for saying it but I would like to look into that possibility rather than constantly finding ways to keep them open and try to find a reason for a functionality for this building. People that go there just to search for jobs when they can drive to Elizabeth and go to the Unemployment Office or have their adult section if my children go there, they have to go past that to get downstairs. How about the Children’s section is upstairs?”
The discussion continued and when councilwoman Torres addressed the matter of asking for a budget from the library, the Borough’s CFO (Chief Financial Officer) Ken Blum stated that the library stopped submitting budgets since the governing body told them they were only going to receive the required minimum. Councilman Casais added that he would ask the library board to submit a budget so that co9uncil could review it.
“I did ask for a report from the library, which I haven’t received, about how many active people actually use the library,” Councilwoman Torres re-iterated, “How many people are using this building to justify $400,000?”
At the following Budget Workshop on February 1, 2012, Library Director Susan Calantone was in attendance to discuss the library budget agenda item along with Library Board Of Trustees President Alex Balaban and Library Board Treasurer Joseph DeIorio.
Ms. Calantone distributed packets to the governing body which included information on circulation comparisons from 2010-2011 which showed that Roselle Park had an increase in books being taken out of 0.18% but it was not made clear if the increase was for all library books from the RPVM Library or just those taken out through the LMxAC (Libraries of Middlesex Automation Consortium) which is a not-for profit 28 library membership organization (link).
The library director went on to demonstrate cuts in man hours and changes in the personnel manual as far as holiday pay for part-timers. She then stated, “So the bottom line, to continue the services, to buy books, to buy materials, to do a great summer reading program, to do whatever we need . . . we would need about $48,000 more than the $386,241.”
Ms. Calantone added that $70,000 from the library’s budget was used to pay for medical and social security which is something the library did not use to pay for in previous years.
Joseph DeIorio spoke and stated that the Board took the position to purchase books and DVDs through a borough ordinance which allows the purchase of books. That is the reason why such costs were not reflected in the library’s budget. There is an outstanding amount of $4,407 in that fund.
The library treasurer then distributed library budget worksheets which showed revenues and expenditures. He re-iterated that even though medical and social security are paid through the library budget, pensions and retiree benefits are still picked up by the municipality. He added, “To the councilperson’s [Torres’] point about the library, on the surface I agree with you. When you look at . . . our main library and then school libraries it would seem to be excessive. So there has to be some additional sharing of all the participants and Susan does that to some extent with the schools. But to help with that, we should look at all of our costs to see where we can share and where we can downsize.”
The councilwoman interjected, “That actually wasn’t the issue that I was having. I mean, we have the five or six libraries. I understand why they’re here. I’m just saying that there could be a way they could be shared. And I do know towns where there’s not a public library and it is open to the public within the schools. There is a way. . . However that’s not what I’m pushing for. My issue was with the programs that were running. How many people were attending them. . . That was the frustration but I thought that was handled and what happened over the last week was out of nowhere I started receiving e-mails and phone calls saying that the staff was telling people as they were coming in ‘Speak to your council, she’s trying to shut down the library.'”
Susan Calantone responded, “No, we never said that. People actually came into our library and mentioned ‘What’s happening? I heard she wants to shut down the library.'”
The discussion turned to Garwood. The councilwoman contended that Garwood’s library (link) was a school library and that the town had use of it through shared services. The library director stated it is its own library with its own budget and it just happens to be attached to the school and it is the library that shares services with the school.
Mayor Accardi offered remarks during the discussion, “Just to be clear, what councilwoman Torres has done is what our job is. We look at every possibility. Just because she put it out on the table didn’t mean that that’s what she was pushing for. She just wanted the idea to be discussed and I credit her for that. I think that it’s a good idea to talk about it.”
Mr. DeIorio addressed the matter of budget information, “I want to make sure the public knows we have a budget. We have all the documents available. It’s presented at every monthly meeting.”
He added that the library board will review the budget that Ms. Calantone presented to council which included $21,000 over the amount conditionally agreed upon by the governing body to have the library maintain the same funding as last year. The library treasurer offered other options to cut costs such as sharing carriers for phone services, looking for other utilities providers as well as reviewing paid holidays, hours, and health insurance. Ken Blum asked about any savings realized with the grant received from the state for energy efficiency and Mr. DeIorio stated that usage was less than last year so further analysis would be required.
The CFO then asked how the library handles the purchasing of books. He remarked, “We didn’t purchase any books for four (4) months and we seemed to survive.”
“But we did,” the library director answered, “We did it through capital.”
She stated that although the library has purchased books, they no longer purchase reference books, just best sellers mostly.
The cost percentages of the library’s budget was talked about and it was determined that 14% of it is overhead costs (utilities, books, programs, promotional material). Everything else deals the salaries, wages, and benefits. The library director commented that only one (1) employee takes medical insurance and the library treasurer said that salaries dropped in 2011 for both part-time and full-time salaries.
In closing, Mayor Accardi asked that the library fine tune its numbers to get the budget to the same amount as last year.
The next municipal budget workshop is tonight, February 15th at 6 p.m. in Borough Hall and the Library Board of Trustees holds its February meeting tonight as well at 7 p.m. in the Roselle Park Veterans Memorial Library.