Last week, members of the John Jermain Memorial Library approved a $1,253,200 proposed budget that it will present to library district voters in September – one of the first budgets that will fall under the auspices of New York State’s two-percent property tax levy cap.
The budget represents a 4.8 percent increase in spending over the approved $1,195,802 budget.
While the board of trustees needed a majority vote to approve the proposed spending plan – it was adopted unanimously – it will still need a simple majority of district residents who turn out for the September 27 budget vote and trustee election.
A public hearing on the budget will be held on Wednesday, September 21.
John Jermain Memorial Library Director Catherine Creedon said this week that while the budget was originally drafted prior to the state’s adoption of the property tax cap, which happened just days after she presented the first draft budget to the library board in June, she was mindful in crafting the spending plan on the impact the economy has had on Sag Harbor residents. While Creedon said the library would benefit from the hire of an additional employee after last month’s library board meeting, she chose to shelve adding another employee to the staff in an effort to pare the budget down as close to two-percent as possible, while facing double-digit increases in the cost of health care.
According to Creedon, the 4.8 percent increase in spending does include the increased costs of operating the library on Sundays year-round, a new initiative the library has taken on as use of the library, particularly since its move to its temporary West Water Street home, has soared.
Expenses for staff is budgeted at $631,596, a $72,549 increase over last year. The increase also takes into account the salary for local history librarian Jessica Frankel, who was hired last year prior to the adoption of the tax cap, her salary covered in the current budget year out of the library’s capital reserves.
“She has been a great asset and single handedly managed the archival wrapping and storage of the history room,” noted Creedon last Wednesday during the library board’s monthly meeting.
The increase in staff costs also cover having custodial services on Saturday and Sunday, as well as paid sick leave for part-time staff.
The overall cost of health insurance is also expected to skyrocket, said Creedon, by 17 percent. She has budgeted $120,600 to cover those costs in the proposed 2012 budget, a $23,160 increase over last year.
Other increases found in the budget include the rise in the cost of fuel oil, as well as unemployment insurance, the expense in operating a new security system at its West Water Street library, as well as the $60,000 annual rent for that facility. The library is also paying for a storage unit to house its archival materials while it embarks on the restoration and expansion of its historic 201 Main Street home.
The library must also pay an additional $13,000 for its membership with the Suffolk County Library System, which provides online services for library patrons like digital downloads.
“Otherwise, I think there is nothing in here that is not self explanatory,” said Creedon. “It’s a bare bones budget, but a good budget.”
There was initially concern on the part of both Creedon and the library board that JJML would have to adhere to the same standards as school districts to override the property tax cap and adopt a budget over two percent, or the rate of inflation, meaning they would need 60 percent of voters who weigh in on the budget to approve the spending plan.
However, last Wednesday Creedon said after conferring with New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and the library’s attorney Tom Volz, she was comfortable knowing the library board only needed a 60 percent majority to bring the budget to taxpayers for approval.
According to Creedon, historically JJML’s budgets have passed with 72-to-74-percent support.
“I will say, I don’t think we can count on that,” she added. “I think it is very important that everyone on the board begin to do outreach. It is a 4.8 percent increase and it does include a salary increase, which I think is minimal considering that for many of my colleagues the portion of their health insurance premiums that will increase will be greater than the increase in their salaries.”
Creedon added that employees of JJML are without pensions or step increases in their pay.
In addition to a budget vote in September, voters will also be asked to pick three trustees to serve on JJML’s board. Trustee Jackie Brody, who is currently serving the remainder of Tippy Ameres’ term, and trustee Craig Rhodes will be on the ballot. It is unclear who will run to take Christiane Neuville’s seat – she is prohibited from running again having reached her term limit on the board.
On Wednesday, Creedon said she has had a number of phone calls from people interested in running who are second-homeowners in Sag Harbor and involved with the library, but are not registered to vote in the Sag Harbor School District.
Bylaws require library board trustee candidates be registered to vote in the district. While it would be a divergence from New York State Education law for the library to alter its bylaws to allow non-registered voters who are homeowners the right to run for trustee, Creedon said her research has shown because JJML is an association library, and not a municipal library, the board does have the right to do so.
“I just wonder if they are not registered to vote here, if they will be available,” said trustee Carl Peterson, noting he spends a tremendous amount of his time serving as a trustee for the library.
Board president Chris Leonard added there is a requirement that board members miss no more than three meetings per year without cause.
Trustee Carol Williams said she has heard several second home-owners express a wish to run for trustee, and for the hope that the library board would move their monthly meetings closer to the weekends so they can participate.
“It’s a significant change, it seems to me,” said Brody. “If you are committed, why not change where you vote?”
The issue will be further discussed at the board’s August 17 meeting at 6 p.m.