An exploratory meeting was held April 1 to consider consolidating the Westbury Memorial Public Library (WMPL) and the Carle Place Public Library Funding District (CPPLFD) by creating a special district public library. At this time, representatives from both the New York State Education Department's Library Division and the Nassau Library System were on hand to discuss what the consolidation process would entail.
Kenneth Little, president of Westbury's board of trustees, initiated the meeting by reminding those in attendance that the idea is preliminary. He said the sole purpose of the meeting was to discuss the possibility, stressing that nothing has yet been decided. "At this point, we don't know if it's a good idea or a bad idea, but it pays for us to explore the option. The emphasis here is 'explore.' No decision has been made," Little said, adding, "As a board we don't know and we have no preconceptions."
Currently, Westbury, which has a population of 25,000 with some 15,000 in possession of library cards, is a school district library, which means that patronage, along with who can vote for the budget and trustees, is pre-determined by the school district's boundaries; taxes are collected and distributed to the library board through the Westbury School District.
The Nassau Library System discourages communities such as Carle Place with less than 10,000 residents from creating special districts on their own in an effort to alleviate the tax burden. As a result, Carle Place joined with Westbury following a December 2002 public referendum, and became a public library funding district, which contracts services from Westbury; taxes are collected and distributed through the Town of North Hempstead.
As a special district public library, taxes from both communities would be collected and distributed by the town.
Through their contract with Westbury, Carle Place residents currently pay $750,000 a year - or a quarter of Westbury's $3 million budget - to utilize the library, its services and programs.
There are currently 9,518 Carle Place residents eligible to utilize the Westbury Public Library with 3,440 as cardholders as of December 2008. It is important to note that a little over 100 homes in the Carle Place School District pay a library tax to the Village of Mineola and are therefore not part of the CPPLFD because state law prohibits being doubled taxed for library services.
According to the New York State Library, there is no comprehensive legal definition of a special district public library because each is "different and [designed to] reflect the particular needs and situation of that district," including the number of trustees, the length of terms and residency requirements. However, the process to create a special district public library, should both boards agree to move forth in this direction, would be similar to the one used to create the CPPLFD in 2002.
At this time, enabling legislation, approved by both the Senate and the Assembly and signed by the governor, authorized a public referendum to create the library, elect trustees and establish a budget. This same process would have to be approved by the public the new library district seeks to serve and, if approved, an election would take place to elect trustees and approve a budget.
Before determining if consolidation is or isn't an option, both the CPPLFD and the WMPL need to delve deeper. Each board must look into the pros and cons of consolidation, including cost and representation, among other things, to both communities. Additionally, Westbury would have to work out an arrangement with the school district, which currently owns the Jefferson Street property with the exception of the Children's Library.
For Westbury, financial stability would be a benefit of consolidation since doing so would ensure a steady stream of funding, from a community with a high commercial tax base, as opposed to relying on a contract that could eventually terminate.
"Without Carle Place's lease, we are down $750,000 a year. By consolidating, we are guaranteed the tax revenue forever," said Westbury Library Director Cathleen Towey, who added that having such a system in place would make it easier to plan for the future. "As director, you want to keep the income stream coming. It's hard to plan for long term when you have to renew a lease every five years," she said.
For Carle Place, consolidation would mean balanced representation on the library board with the right to vote, neither of which they currently have. At the same time, CPPLFD President Peter McDonnell said there is concern that Carle Place would remain the minority on the board. However, according to the Nassau Library System, that situation could be easily rectified when drawing up the initial legislation for the special library district.
"This alternative could possibly save the taxpayers of both communities money, allow representation of Carle Place on the Westbury Library Board and provide an ongoing and permanent revenue source, which will facilitate long-term planning," Jackie Thresher, director of the Nassau Library System, told The Westbury Times, adding, "I applaud the board of the Westbury Memorial Public Library and the Carle Place Public Library Funding District for exploring an alternative to continuing the contract-for-service relationship they have had ..."
CPPLFD's current contract with Westbury expires this June and McDonnell said he sees "no reason it would not be renewed." In the meantime, McDonnell said, the possibility of consolidating the libraries into one district is something Carle Place will continue to research and seek community feedback on.
"We do not know if this is feasible at this point, but feel that it needs to be looked at to see if it would provide better benefits to the residents of both areas," McDonnell said, adding, "This will be a long process [and] if it is decided that it is worth pursuing, it will ultimately be decided by the residents of both areas."
While Thresher "wholeheartedly supports the consideration of this alternative structure," she believes the "determination of the extent of any specific benefits and if there are any disadvantages in this particular case needed to be determined by both boards of trustees with public input from both communities."
If both boards proved to be in favor of consolidating to create a special public library district, the process could take between 18-24 months. "The Nassau Library System," Thresher said, "is available to help both parties with this endeavor."