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Major Decisions Before Final Library Budget

Before the Great Neck Library Board Trustees approve a 2011 budget to present to the voters on May 18, critical decisions lie ahead. A special meeting has been called for Thursday, April 15 when more precise numbers for the renovation of a larger space at Station Branch will be revealed to the public and when it is expected that a vote will be taken to either move ahead with the 6400-square foot space on the second floor in the Gardens of Great Neck mall or stay in the current space.

At the budget hearing on Tuesday, April 6, the board voted unanimously to open Main and all branches an hour later at 10 a.m. on Saturdays, thereby reducing the need for two shifts, with a yearly savings of $22,421. (Note: Last week an incorrect savings for this item was listed in the Great Neck Record, Library Update article.) The change in hours of operation will go into effect on June 19 of this year.

The board tabled a proposal from the library director, Jane Marino, to close Main on Friday evenings at 6 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. Ms. Marino had developed a chart showing a decrease in circulation on Friday evenings. A large contingent of library staff members attended the hearing. One staff member asked which months were tabulated for the statistical graft. Ms. Marino said that the numbers were recorded from October until February of this year.  According to the staff member, who works in the children’s section, the spring and summer months with the longer daylight hours are quite busy on Friday evenings. The board asked for a fuller statistical accounting before approving such a major reduction in services. The money that would be saved annually, if supported by the board, would be just under $40,000.

Trustee Varda Solomon wondered if closing hours could be tied to changes in Daylight Savings time.

Trustee Josie Pizer wanted to know exactly where the people who use Main on Friday nights live and asked if the administration would gather this information. Ms. Marino said that library patrons have a right to anonymity and that the library does not gather specific data on individual usage. (Readers may remember that our library fought, in concert with the American Library Association, against provisions in the Patriot Act that would require libraries to divulge reading habits and Internet content usage of patrons to the authorities.)

During this discussion, resident Ralene Adler stated her opposition to cuts in service for Main on Friday nights and suggested that the $40,000 could be saved by taking other measures, such as not giving the director and her assistant a combined $7,000 raise; reducing by one the number of people going to conferences, cutting computer training consultant fees and the like. A number of people defended the benefits of staff attending national conferences and their exposure to new ideas which they bring back to share with the entire staff.

Another cost cutting proposal from Ms. Marino was to discontinue the newsletter mailings to everyone for a savings of $27,000. She said that the large format could be replaced with smaller mailings, maybe 2 or 3 times a year and that the information about library programs could be offered online instead. This proposal generated much discussion. Trustee Anna Kaplan suggested that perhaps patrons could opt out of receiving the newsletter so that those who use and enjoy it could continue to receive it and those who do not could be taken off  that mailing list. The cost of mailing is the biggest portion of the expense. It was also pointed out that there is still a segment of the population who are not comfortable with computers and who do not go online for information. No decision was reached on the matter.

Trustee Janet Eshaghoff suggested that the library start using email addresses whenever possible to send late notices and reserved book information to patrons.

Since so many budget items are under review and there is a possibility of a major expansion at Station branch, the Record asked if any consideration had been given to closing the Lakeville Branch. The response was that the library is two years into a 10-year lease and such a cut is not on the table.


Additional Proposed Cuts

The proposed budget for purchasing reference books is cut to $64,800, a 19 percent reduction from 2010; children’s books, cut to $70,750, a 10 percent reduction; adult books to $202,500, a 10 percent reduction. This is counterbalanced by an increase in electronic format materials to $138,000, a 6.2 percent increase.

The proposed 2011 budget includes cuts in programming as well. Adult programming would be reduced by 14.6 percent, from $31,00 to $27,000; children’s programming by 10 percent, from $30,000 to $27,000; Levels programming by 10 percent, from $16,000 to $14,400; and Junior Levels by 10 percent, from $14,000 to $12,600.

The early retirement incentive program is currently projected to result in savings of $113,248 in salaries and benefits; however, eligible staff members still have more time to make the decision so that number is fluid.

On the matter of covering the costs for a renovation at Station, trustee and former treasurer Marietta Di Camillo has been strongly opposed to taking reserve funds from anywhere but the branch reserve fund.

In a conversation after the meeting, board president Andrew Greene said, “When it comes to making a decision about Station, we aren’t just concerned about build-out costs, but in yearly operational cost increases… We appreciate the public input on the matter. It’s a tough decision and the lease renewal, unfortunately, did come at a bad time.”

The most recent draft of the 2011 budget proposal is available at Main and all branches and is also posted on the library’s website.