The Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
BYLINE: Stephanie Akin, THE RECORD
The Maywood library is facing such severe budgeting shortfalls that it will have trouble paying its utility bills next year, let alone buying new materials, library representatives said.
Shorter operating hours, reduced staff and outside fundraising have all been proposed. But library representatives say such measures would risk depleting the facility to the point where it no longer serves the community, and the initiatives still wouldn’t solve the library’s financial problems.
“Even in the worst-case scenario, by closing as much as we could and cutting the staff as much as possible, it still would not make up what we need to run the building,” library director Kulsum Quadri said. “If it keeps operating this way, we will keep reducing down to nothing.”
The claim comes as the library is preparing to ask the borough council for a budget allocation of about $600,000 next year, compared to roughly $435,000 it will receive in accordance with state law. In addition, the library will start the new year with a deficit if it doesn’t get at least $20,000 from the town to pay its bills by year’s end, Quadri said.
Councilman Adrian Febre, part of the new Republican majority taking control of the council next month, said the library’s health was a “big concern” to him and the incoming mayor and council members. However, he said it is unlikely the borough would be able to comply with the budget request. “The fact of the matter is, from our budget, they’re not going to be able to get more than the mandated money,” he said.
This is not the first library in Bergen County to face serious financial troubles. The Northvale Library was forced to close after voters rejected a tax increase in April that would have raised up to $250,000 for it. Officials at the time said the library needed $335,000 to continue operating. Northvale officials are now attempting to create a virtual library to serve the community.
Maywood library patrons on a recent afternoon said any cutbacks would be difficult to accept, but that the past several years of property tax hikes, accompanied by reductions in borough services, had prepared them for such unsettling choices.
“I’m kind of torn,” said Lynda Ginart, who said she visits the library for her 8-year-old daughter’s Girl Scout meetings. “I can understand that there’s nothing left to give.”
Library representatives say additional money would return the budget to its level of about 10 years ago, when the borough paid about $100,000 in yearly electricity and other maintenance expenses, in addition to the $100,000 it routinely gave above the state mandate, which requires municipalities to devote a percentage of annual property tax levies to library budgets.
The borough stopped paying building expenses when it moved its offices out of the library basement in 2003.
The library made up for the shortfall by dipping into its surplus, but that money dried up this year, said Quadri and Hal Bloom, president of the library board of directors.
The library has since stopped buying books and supplies, but it will have to make much more drastic cuts next year.
“We don’t know which way to turn,” Bloom said.
Mayor Tim Eustace, who is serving the last month of his term, said the library’s demands are unrealistic considering the budget cuts that other departments have had to endure, including a layoff at the Department of Public Works and reductions in services, such as leaf cleaning and recycling collection.
“There’s no way the taxpayers would give more money than they already give,” he said. “What they need is better budgeting.”
He also pointed out that the library received a $6 million endowment in 2006.
But library representatives said the endowment, from the estate of resident James Hackbarth, came with the stipulation that the money be spent on capital projects and could not be used for any expenses that are generally the mayor and council’s responsibility, including salaries, books or DVDs, library representatives said.
“We’re not a charity,” Quadri said. “We’re a government-run business that is not being funded at the appropriate level to provide the services to the community that it deserves.”
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