This year's library annual budget vote produced a highly unusual result: voters defeated it 445 to 345. Going back 30 years to 1973, the only other time in its history the budget was defeated was in 1993, after the scandal of the then-library director occurred.
Also unusual, was the voter turnout of 790 last Tuesday. Typically, this figure is fewer than 400, with 300 "yes" votes and 100 no votes, on average.
Ironically, Board President Julie Geller, though running uncontested, received 591 votes. One can deduce from this that the community was not angry or unhappy with the library trustees, or else they would not have bothered supporting her.
Combined with the fact that, according to Library Director Nancy Curtin, the library received no letters of complaint about the budget, and no one even attended the library's annual public hearings, the results indicate something else.
Like the school's roof bond that was recently defeated, the taxpayers appear to be sending a strong anti-tax message. Ms. Curtin feels that the "no vote" was a protest vote against rising taxes and the reassessment. She commented, "We knew and know that people are very concerned about taxes. We feel however that they did not target the library's budget specifically."
The library stated in its budget notice that it approached the 2005 budget as an austerity package and had held the line on almost all expenditure codes. The budget amount to be raised by taxes, after the application of $50,000 of fund balance, was $5,471,780, which represented a 5.68 percent increase over last year.
Increases in the defeated budget included a small increase for staff salaries, an increase in health insurance premiums and mandated contributions to the New York State Retirement System. The State Comptroller is calling for a contribution rate to the retirement system of 14 percent of the library's payroll, or $306,000. This mandated contribution has increased 20 times since 2002 and is a serious challenge to budget efficiencies, as are increases in health insurance premiums, the library administration stated in a release.
What's next? At press time, the library board is scheduled to meet Wednesday, April 21, to review their options. As a public library, they can go back to the voters with another budget. If that's defeated, they will have to work with last year's tax levy, which would result in a shortfall in ability to pay NYS retirement bill and healthcare. (Unlike the school district, the library cannot go on an austerity budget, which would allow them a small percentage increase.)
Ms. Curtin advises that some of the potential budgetary changes the library could make would be to cut purchases, reduce the number of hours, or not purchase as many books "I hate to see it happen," she lamented
"We are disappointed with the result of the library vote," added the director. "The budget for the coming year had been prepared as an austerity package, in spite of the fact that library usage, circulation and program attendance have increased over the past year. However, the library is sensitive to the tax burden the community faces and the board will review its options going forward.
When asked to comment, the vice president of the Library Board of Trustees Lee Aitkins said "We understand the result of the vote. We'll be looking at all of our options."