By Kathryn G. Menu
Members of the John Jermain Memorial Library Board of Trustees began discussing a proposed budget for 2012 last week. Like it has for many area school districts and municipalities, the conversation quickly turned to the impact a proposed New York State mandated two-percent property tax cap could have on the library budget.
According to Reuters, legislative leaders on Tuesday reached a tentative agreement on passing the property tax cap as well as new rent control regulations for the state.
The state senate and assembly could have voted on the property tax cap legislation as early as Wednesday afternoon, according to an article that appeared in The New York Times on Tuesday.
For months, JJML Director Catherine Creedon has expected the tax cap to be adopted and last week she warned the library’s board of trustees about the impact it could have on the budget.
Creedon presented a draft budget plan at Wednesday’s meeting that would increase spending by 5.4 percent over this year’s roughly $1.2 million budget.
Creedon noted within the proposed budget is monies to fund the operation of a temporary space at 34 West Water Street, which will open on July 2 and serve as the library’s home for two years while John Jermain is restored and expanded. Health insurance costs are also expected to rise between 17 and 18 percent in the next year, added Creedon.
With the departure of program director Martha Potter as well as demand for technical library services, the library is also looking at funding a new position in the next year, she added.
The Suffolk Cooperative Library Systems is also expected to raise the cost for a library to harness digital downloadable materials, as demand for the service has skyrocketed.
According to Creedon, the entire Suffolk Cooperative Library System’s digital downloads in April of 2007 were calculated at 248. In May of this year, there were 20,818 downloads and that is expected to rise as the Kindle — arguably one of the most popular e-readers — becomes compatible with the Cooperative’s Live-brary system.
A two-percent salary increase for staff members at the library was also penned into the draft budget, she added.
“All of this is complicated by the tax cap legislation,” said Creedon.
Creedon said she has been advised to be careful with next year’s budget in anticipation of the fact that, should Albany pass the tax cap, if the library’s spending plan shows increases above 1.5 percent it may very well need approval from 60 percent of district voters. While school districts are safe from the legislation affecting spending plans immediately, many libraries like JJML have annual budgets, and according to the legislation, any 2012 budget will have to adhere to tax cap standards. This is one of may ways, say Creedon, libraries are falling through the cracks when it comes to the proposed law.
The proposed property tax cap limits the amount of spending increase to two percent or the rate of inflation. With health insurance costs on the rise, along with other non-discretionary spending items like fuel, the budget will become “more and more difficult to balance,” said Creedon.
Board member Michael Garabedian said he was concerned at the prospect of asking voters to approve a 5.4 percent increase in spending with the tax cap looming.
Creedon, who agreed with Garabedian, suggested she re-write the proposed budget with a 4.8 percent increase, which is roughly $98,000 over the 2011 spending plan, and not include a full salary for a new employee. Next year, said Creedon, the board could plan on asking for a 2.5 percent increase.
The board, seemingly reluctant, empowered Creedon to present a draft budget with a 4.8 percent increase at its July 20 meeting at 6 p.m., which will be held in the new conference room at 34 West Water Street.
A formal budget public hearing will be held on September 21, with the budget vote set for September 27.