Public funding for library on the ballot May 20
May 16, 2014
To the editor:
Much has been said during the past several weeks about the referendum next Tuesday to help the Desmond-Fish Library meet its rising costs. All the people who have spoken out, including the referendum’s most persistent opponents, have taken pains to say they are grateful for the library and how much they appreciate its contributions to the community. This aspect of the debate has been very gratifying to all of us on the board and staff of the library, where every day we focus on what we can do to improve our service to the public.
I’ve been board president now for maybe 17 years. We are a public library chartered by New York State that has also been blessed with an endowment that provides about half our operating budget. Throughout my association with the library we have always pursued diverse fundraising strategies to make up the annual budget shortfall and pay for capital improvements in order to avoid asking the public for help.
Our board is made up largely of parents, artists, retirees and professional people from Philipstown, with kids in the schools and strained finances, all of whom contribute financially at one level or another to the library. With help from a lot of wonderful people, we raise up to $250,000 each year to meet our carefully managed budget, and whenever we’ve faced an extraordinary challenge or crisis, we’ve gone to outside sources for help.
When the community asked for better access to the program room, which is used for free nearly every day by local groups in need of a meeting place, we spent a year appealing to the state and other sources and secured most of the $265,000 needed to build the elevator. Those with experience working with regional representatives and the state bureaucracy will know something about the work involved in obtaining funds of that magnitude.
When that same program room and the rest of our basement level was flooded with three feet of water after a hurricane and torrential rains, we remediated and implemented a complete renovation at considerable cost financed via insurance and state and federal grants, again without asking for financial help from the community. It’s important to recall that people from all over Garrison came out during that crisis, they carried books and furniture to higher ground and monitored the water levels as they receded, and ultimately they helped save an endangered facility.
When the roof was severely damaged in a recent storm, when we had to remove a leaking underground oil tank, when we renovated the children’s room — we searched for the resources to cover the additional costs. Our Sustainability Committee conducted an environmental audit of the plant, obtained grants from every source we could find, and replaced the insulation, windows, doors, and interior lighting — all in order to improve energy efficiency and reduce our heating and electric bills. Even today, when as stewards of an aging building we face the need to replace our failing HVAC system, we investigated the most environmentally efficient options, have obtained grants and are pursuing every available source of possible funding to offset the projected $180,000 cost.
Not everyone uses the library, but for thousands of Garrison residents it is the center of their community. We serve all the people who live here, and all of our services — the books in our collection, and the books in the 60 libraries in the mid-Hudson Library Association that people who live in Garrison have access to and can obtain on 48 hours notice, the wide range of computers and the high-speed digital access — all of these services are free. We offer programs for all ages, including the new digitally-based projects for elementary school age kids whom we are teaching to write software code, and the digital streaming of interactive educational programs produced by PBS and NPR stations and colleges throughout the metropolitan area. The full use of all features of the facility, the reading groups, the tutoring, and the support our staff provides to those needing help with research — all aspects of the institution are open to the public.
And at no time was the importance of the library more apparent to us than during the economic slowdown, when the demand for our services increased and we helped out-of-work people with their search for employment, and provided Internet access to people who could no longer afford it at home.
We instituted the Holiday sales, built up our summer book sale, we established our annual Awards Gala, and strengthened our Friends group in order to increase our revenues so that we could build our programs, maintain our hours, and continue to improve our standard of service.
We have reached a point where after all the exhausting fundraising and marketing and grant writing, we still face an annual shortfall of between $30,000 and $75,000. We can’t spend down on the endowment, if that goes the library goes with it. We pay our staff fairly, and contribute to their health plans, but all costs rise incrementally, the physical plant is aging and needs constant attention, and we need to keep pace with and invest in the changes in technology and the broader information culture.
The state requires us to develop sustainable sources of revenues to support the library, and the only source of funding we have not appealed to is the community we serve. Over the past year we asked the taxpayers, in written communications and online, how would they feel if we asked them to help us offset a small portion of our budget and avoid having to introduce shorter hours or fewer days. The answer was a resounding “Go for it.”
Well, that’s our case. We’re not asking the voters to pay for the entire operation, and we’re not proposing to relax our efforts to find funds to cover our budget, or the big-ticket items that continue to insure Garrison has one of the best small-town libraries in the state. But we do need your help as we move toward the future. And if you’ve read this far, whatever your decision, thanks for giving us a hearing.
President, Board of Trustees
P.S. You can find answers to frequently asked questions about the referendum on our website at desmondfishlibrary.org/vote.pdf.