Bond Takes Pressure Off Library Budget

Posted on 19 July 2009

On Wednesday, July 8 the John Jermain Memorial Library (JJML) Board of Trustees approved a 4.9 percent increase in spending for the 2010 fiscal year, adopting a $1,068,800 draft budget, which will be floated to voters of the Sag Harbor Union Free School District in September.

On Monday night, the Sag Harbor School Board also approved the spending increase.

The ballot will also ask voters to elect two residents of the school district to the board of trustees. Current trustee Chris Leonard will seek to keep his seat on the board, while longtime board member and president Diane Gaites said on Wednesday she would decline another run for office.

Last month residents in the school district approved an almost $10 million referendum for the restoration and expansion of the historic, Main Street, Sag Harbor library with 83 percent of voters supporting the project, which will almost double the size of the current library. According to JJML Director Catherine Creedon, the passage of the referendum has enabled the board to develop a budget for 2010 with minor spending increases as the board will try and hold off on addressing a number of maintenance issues in the current building that will now be covered by referendum monies.

In fact, on Tuesday, Creedon said she had developed two budgets in anticipation of the referendum vote – if the referendum failed to find support the budget would have shown a sharp increase in spending to cover a number of costs associated with keeping the historic building running, like the replacement of its heating and air systems. Creedon noted a priority in the budget prepared in anticipation of the referendum’s passage was to keep any spending increase below five percent.

“I needed to really look where we could trim without compromising our patrons’ experience at the library,” said Creedon on Tuesday, noting the task was not easily accomplished as circulation at JJML is up 40 percent from two years ago. Costs for basic services like printing and mailing JJML’s newsletter and additional taxes like the state imposed MTA payroll tax have also increased the cost of running the library, but Creedon said she worked with Leonard to try and keep spending down by cutting line items in buildings and grounds, for books and in general material expenses.

“It’s a tight budget, but I felt after the approval of the referendum and given the economy it was the moderate course of action to take,” said Creedon to the board last Wednesday. “If the board thinks it is not high enough, we can rewrite it.”

One area that Creedon has cut drastically was for buildings and grounds expenses, which are proposed to cost $23,190 in 2010, while $40,800 was budgeted in 2009. Almost all of the cuts were made in building repairs and maintenance, for which Creedon budgeted $12,000 in the 2010 fiscal year, an $18,000 decrease in spending from last year’s budget.

A number of board members expressed reservations about the cuts, in particular because the library has been operating with a furnace that could give out in the next year before the new library project has received a building permit from the Village of Sag Harbor.

“We just squeaked by this winter and we will have to squeak by another,” said board member Nancy Hallock.

The board briefly discussed raising the figure to $20,000, but Creedon said that would result in presenting district voters a budget showing a 5.7 percent increase – not something she was inclined to do.

Board member Craig Rhodes said if the furnace did give out, the library could explore renting a portable furnace on a tractor trailer to see the library through until the new building project begins – an idea embraced by the rest of the board.

“My inclination is to go with the budget that Cathy has presented,” said board member Carl Peterson. “Again, we have to cross our fingers, but if something does happen I think we will be able to find a way to address it.”

“I know it is playing Russian roulette at this point,” agreed board vice president Christiane Neuville. “But it is a bare bones budget.”

The board was unanimous in adopting the 4.9 percent spending increase.

In other library board news, the board briefly debated whether to decrease the number of board members to seven. Currently, the board has nine members, although with the departure of Kate Evarts has been operating as an eight-person board through the referendum process.

Largely divided on the issue, at the end of the debate, the board agreed to keep the board an eight-person panel.

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