The battle of the books has begun.
On Nov. 3, New Paltz voters will head to the polls to decide the fate of the proposed budget for the Elting Memorial Library (EML). The EML board has requested a $70,000 increase from their $396,000 budget for the 2015 fiscal year, totaling $466,000 for the 2016 fiscal year. The 17.6 percent increase is the most significant request in funding since EML held their first vote for public assistance in 2009.
EML board president Richard Heyl de Ortiz stated that a series of necessary renovations to the building, including repairs to the roof and heating system, were among the reasons for the request for an increased budget.
“This is not something we always want to do,” Heyl de Ortiz said. “There are some libraries that do this every year and require a vote. We’re requesting an increase in the budget so we can be on par with other libraries in our district.”
EML is an association library, a type of public library that operates under the direction of a board of trustees, and “may receive appropriation from units of government.” Unlike other public libraries that may rely solely on a budget provided by the town government or voted on each year by voters, association libraries typically operate as private not-for-profits. Most of EML’s funds come from fundraising and contributions, though a portion of the budget is provided by the town government.
“Our board has done more to fundraise than several other library boards in our district,” Heyl de Ortiz said. “We’re asking for additional assistance to our fundraising. If we receive this public money, we will still continue with our fundraising efforts.”
According to Chapter 414 of New York state law, public libraries have the “ability to place a funding proposition on a municipal ballot.” The upcoming vote was allowed after a New Paltz town board meeting on Sept. 24 gave the EML board the opportunity to place their budget proposal on the ballot. The measure passed by a 3-1 vote, with the lone vote of opposition coming from Town Councilman Kevin Barry.
“They don’t want to relinquish their public status but they can still emulate the process of public entities,” Barry said. “They need to be held to the same standard as anyone who receives taxpayer money.”
Barry said he was concerned by the lack of specifics provided by the EML board in their proposal to the town board. In addition to their website lacking a comprehensive list of their financials at the time of the meeting, Barry said their budget did not include the traditional line-by-line detail of other budgets he had seen.
“They owe it to the taxpayers to familiarize themselves with the requirements,” Barry said. “The town board has kept [property] taxes down to low single digits in the past few years. Instead of asking for public money, they should be looking at their overhead and aiming to reduce it.”
The effect on residents of New Paltz has been a main critique of the proposal. The tax rate is set to rise if the proposal is passed, and some have questioned the immediacy of supplying EML with additional funds. Local businessman Jon Cohen objected to the proposed budget, arguing that the money could be allocated more efficiently.
“As it stands our community supplies close to approximately $400,000 in funding,” Cohen said. “We need to find the dollars to repair broken fire-hydrants before we add additional funding to the library.”
Should the measure fail at the ballot box, the impact would be sizable on EML, Heyl de Ortiz said. Though EML plans to use the additional funding to cover the costs of the repairs of building operations, they are also concerned with providing their employees with health care options.
“Without the additional funding, our ability to sustain and purchase new material would be drastically impacted,” Heyl de Ortiz said. “We only have $260,000 in reserves. This funding would help us bolster those numbers over the next few years.”