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Library funding chaos, the taxpayer still foots the bill
By Lee Chowaniec
Jun 24, 2011, 10:53
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County Executive Chris Collins publically admits to not using the library and cut $3 million from its budget. Under public pressure he restored $3 million and according to the Buffalo News has come up with a three-year plan where coordination with the Library Board could lead to a special districting plan where voters would have a direct say on library funding and the taxes they would pay to support the system.

The Buffalo News encourages supporting a plan that in their mind would “spread the burden.” The plan entails:

* Collins will bolster county support by an additional $2 million a year for three years by dipping into the county's rainy day fund. The Legislature would need to support this spending.

* The county will take over the costs of maintenance and utilities of the Central Library, relieving the system of $1.3 million in costs.

* Cities, towns and villages will be asked to similarly maintain branches within their municipalities. That is estimated to save the system $1.75 million a year.

* The library system would cut spending on new materials by $900,000 a year for three years, still leaving $2.5 million for the purpose.

With that, the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library System should be able to weather the next few years while it organizes and launches a taxing district, in which voters would have a direct say on library funding and the taxes they would pay to support the system.

Not everyone likes the idea of a taxing district. After all, if the library system is critical infrastructure, why not fund it that way, out of general property taxes? What is more, New York State has more than enough taxing entities already. Why add another?

Town of Lancaster comments on the plan

Supervisor Robert Giza informed Town Board members at Monday evening’s work session that in a conference call County Executive Chris Collins declared that if his plan did not go through that would be a cut to the 36 libraries now in operation. It was Giza’s belief that only three town reps were on the recent conference call.

“Because of so many people talking in the background it was difficult to hear,” stated Giza. “But from what I heard, this is what I understand his plan is. He wants the local towns to maintain the library buildings, which we pretty much do now – grass cutting, air conditioning, furnace, snow plowing, etc. The county would provide money that would be evenly spread across all 36 libraries. It costs about $19,000 per year to take care of the average library; of course, the bigger the library the bigger the cost.”

“Collins will contribute out of his reserves $2 million a year, for the next three years. It will also take away the local library board. There would be an advisory board established. Collins believes that libraries are no longer libraries as we knew them, but have become meeting places for variance organizations.”

It was then discussed whether small outlying towns would be able to afford contributing to the plan. One council member declared that it sounded to him like Collins was passing the costs onto the towns while not reducing the county tax roll. Another proffered that there is due concern on having the towns contribute more especially if the tax cap proposition now being considered is made into law. “Why shouldn’t there be concern that this is a move to return the libraries to town cultural programs and expenses and that this would burden us even more,” remarked one council member.

Speaking on putting the library assessment rolls and establishing “special taxing districts,” the discussion turned to the complexities of making such move. “It would certainly not happen for another couple of years as such plan would have to go to the NYS Legislature for their consideration, claimed one board member”. “If such district was established that means everyone in the county would be able to vote up or down on the budget proposal, just like with a school budget.”

“The libraries today need $22 million to function now, approximately. Collins came in with $18 million and had no clue on how they (libraries) operate. In the interim, he gave back $2 million. So the libraries are still $1 million short (?) and that’s where the $900,000 comes in. And if he does this, he wants to pass the burden onto the towns by having us pay the utilities as well. Some towns have two and three libraries. They will be burdened even more.”

A board member declared they asked a county consultant whether county taxes would go down should their plan be approved. “He just laughed,” said the council member.

A resident asked a council member who acts as a liason with the Lancaster Library Board whether the Lancaster library is used as much presently as it was several years ago. “Much more was the response.”

The resident declared he visited the library several times a month and found the same to be true. “It is difficult to find a parking space, the computers are all in use and books are being returned and taken out at the same (if not more) rate than in the past.”

“That’s why he has no clue on how to fund it (library),” the council member stated. “That’s why he is now pulling $2 million out of his rainy-day fund surplus fund. The libraries are vital to all communities and then he threatens to close a number of them if his plan is not adopted; after so many were shut down in 2005. Our Library Board of Trustees is already working with less money.”

The discussion closed with members voicing concerns on the establishing of a special taxing district regarding how the money would be distributed among the towns and whether some towns would be subsidizing others as is the case with the Erie County Sheriff’s Department.

Comments

Regardless which government agency comes out the better, it is the taxpayer that will foot the bill in the long run.
It is interesting watching governmental interaction to reduce costs while passing the buck on down to the taxpayer.

Council member names were withheld to protect them from intimidation. Their comments are both informative and pertinent.

Libraries are vital community culltural establishments. I suggest you visit one sometime, Mr. Collins.



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