‘Yes’ or ‘no’ vote on additional funding May 19
By Michael Turton
This year’s Haldane Central School District budget vote on May 19 will include an item unrelated to the school — a referendum asking taxpayers if they will approve annual spending of $73,150 in support of Cold Spring’s Julia Butterfield Library.
The library referendum is completely separate and will not affect school taxes or related rebates. The Desmond-Fish Library used such a referendum to receive approval for additional annual funding as part of last year’s Garrison Union Free School District budget vote.
Libraries can use the annual May vote to request funding because they come under the jurisdiction of the New York State Department of Education. In last year’s Garrison vote, only residents within the GUFS District were subject to the additional tax. Likewise, only Haldane School District taxpayers will be assessed if Butterfield Library’s request earns a “yes” vote.
In order to make an informed decision on the Butterfield Library proposition, residents within the Haldane Central School District may want to brush up on their knowledge of how the library is funded — and how it spends its money.
The cost of staffing the library is by far the biggest expense. Payroll and related costs, including payroll tax, total $246,519 — close to 70 percent of the $354,419 in spending budgeted for 2015. Gillian Thorpe, the library’s only full-time employee and its director for 15 years, earns $70,000 a year. She receives no benefits or pension plan. The other 11 employees are part-time, with no benefits, and are paid between $9.50 and $16.50 an hour. “And they are people with master’s degrees,” Thorpe said. She also said that she is the only library director in Putnam County not to receive benefits or a pension.
Other major expenditures this year will include library operations, $37,950; building operations $30,650; books and materials $20,000; technology, $14,300; and programs, $5,000.
The annual audit is ongoing, however unofficial totals provided by the library for 2014 reflect what has been a consistent revenue pattern in recent years. Last year, as in several proceding years, $276,000 was channeled through the Town of Philipstown — 75 percent of library income. Putnam County added $34,625 — the two levels of government accounting for about 84 percent of the library revenue.
Fundraising and donations, including from the library’s “Friends” group, totaled $28,737, or 8 percent of revenue. The library also received a $20,000 annuity which earns $1,500 a year. An endowment valued at $430,000 is used primarily to maintain the building but cannot be used to offset operating costs.
Spending the new funds
Thorpe said that if approved, the request for $73,150 would “put us on the path we were on nine years ago,” restoring what has been cut in recent years. The infusion of cash would be spread over a number of areas with the biggest winner being “books and materials,” which would see an increase of $20,000 — some 27 percent of the new funding. Another $15,000 would go to building operations, an area that Thorpe said needs attention due to previous cuts that were made despite increased library usage.
Programs for children, adults and seniors would benefit from a $10,000 increase. Software subscriptions paid to the Mid Hudson Library System would account for $6,500. Another $5,000 would go to such expenses as staff development and improved Wi-Fi service. A contingency fund of $6,650 would also be established to cover unforeseen expenses.
Of the referendum funding, $10,000 would go to staff salaries, including small pay raises that Thorpe said are long overdue. “It’s hard to staff our library starting at $9.50 an hour when Kent [Library] starts at $13 an hour,” she said. “We’ve fallen behind in what we offer our staff.” An additional staff person would be added on weekends; currently only one person works upstairs and one downstairs, a scheme that raises security concerns for Thorpe, who pointed out that Butterfield has experienced two break-ins in recent years.
The library also recently began requiring patrons to check out computers from the main desk. Previously, laptops were left out on tables. That system was dropped because, as Thorpe put it, “things like power cords started to disappear.” She said that especially on weekends with minimal staffing, “someone could have just walked out with a $1,200 Apple computer.”
The Town of Philipstown has been the primary funder of the library for years, and originally the amount of that support was determined as part of the town’s annual budget process. Thorpe said that in 2000, the town contributed just $16,000, but that by 2006 that had increased to $125,000. The shift came after the library board had indicated it could not survive without a substantial increase and was considering a public referendum. Thorpe said that when a tentative increase to $150,000 didn’t materialize due to the town’s own budget constraints, the library board decided it needed funding that was more secure and called the referendum.
There were at least some complaints after the “yes” vote in the 2006 referendum that the library had not been totally up front about the $276,000 requested, that it would become an automatic, annual contribution with the Philipstown Town Board no longer having a say as to the amount. The town went to court over the issue, but the New York State Supreme Court ruled in the library’s favor.
Some may still have doubts. One Cold Spring resident who did not want to be named told The Paper that while he has been supportive of the library and donated to it in the past, he would have difficulty voting “yes” on May 19 due to his concern over how the 2006 vote was conducted.
Diligent about transparency
Thorpe feels that such concerns are unjustified. “It’s frustrating,” she said. “I feel I did everything I could” in 2006 to inform the public, including taking out a full-page ad in the Putnam County News and Recorder. She also said the library retains an Albany lawyer specializing in library law to advise Butterfield’s board.
“We’ve been diligent about being transparent, and about doing things right,” she said. To those who have doubts she said, “Educate yourself; look at what other libraries are spending.” Thorpe again expressed frustration that “when people don’t do that … they are not aware of what it takes to run a library. We do a lot with a little.” She said the 2006 referendum “was always about secure funding to sustain library services.”
The public will have a number of opportunities to become familiar with the May 19 referendum, including public meetings on Wednesday, April 22, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, April 26, at 3 p.m. in the library. The library website, butterfieldlibrary.org, also contains relevant information, including how the funds that voters are being asked to approve would be spent; the 2015 library budget; past audit reports; and trends in library usage. Board meetings are also open to the public, held on the third Wednesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the library.
The ‘original search engines’
Residents who have not visited Butterfield Library in a while may be surprised at what they see, Thorpe said. “They may think it’s a dead place … but there are days when it’s crazy in here — it’s too busy!” She also said that the library’s increased patronage is proof that even with laptop computers, Google, iPhones and tablets, libraries are still relevant. “We’re busier than ever, as is every library in our area. People need help finding the right material,” she said. “Librarians are the original search engines.”