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Heart and Soul of River Edge Facing Major Budget Cuts

The Public Library, which presented a reduced budget from 2011, is now being asked for additional cuts and to cover their own utilities

Cries and pleas by residents, members of the Library Board and Library employees (past and present) echoed throughout the meeting room of in River Edge Saturday morning as the governing body and the citizen's budget committee discussed $46,000 in additional cuts to the budget for 2012.

"As a resident I have the priviledge of working at the library since 2008," Adult services librarian Jennifer Kelemen said. "I saw all the wonderful things the library does for children and adults with concerts, speakers, movies, ESL tutoring. But then in 2010 my hours were reduced from 20 hours to 10 hours per week and residents ask what happened to the adult programs but my hands are tied. For many of us this is our career, we've gone to school for our Master of Library Sciences. We don't do this because of the money but because we enjoy serving the public. We want to do our job but we can only do that if the doors are open."

Former children's librarian Susan Mengers added that when current children's librarian MaryAnne Guilliano took over, she lost the assistant position and fears that programs could be cut.

"Daragh presented a conservative budget and it should be passed," Mengers said. 

The proposed cuts could potentially result in a reduction of staffing or hours of operation, according to Library Director Daragh O'Connor. At a previous budget meeting, O'Connor presented a $603,000 budget that included a 3% reduction from the 2011 budget level.

"We reduced our budget by 5% in 2010 and 19% in 2009," O'Connor said. "We were the first to furlough employees and reduced our full time staff from eight to four. Since then it's been a struggle to provide a quality service to residents but I believe we do so successfully.

"I could have easily presented a budget with a 2% increase because the law allows it or given you a flat budget. In fact, what I gave you was the absolute bare bones budget that I could muster. Any sizeable reduction will mean staff cuts and hours as well."

Currently the library is open 54 hours a week from Monday though Saturday, but O'Connor stated that a $46,000 cut in his budget would mean seven less hours per week that the Library is open. Depending on what the Library Board of Trustees decided, the reduced hours could take place on Thursday evenings, Friday mornings or Saturday afternoons.

"The library has touched my life in numeous ways," Karen Clemmins said. "I purchased my home in town becuase of the proximity to the library. It provided internet services for my son to do research for his homework and it touched my life when my husband was out of work and joined Neighbors Helping Neighbors to eventually find work again. Our free public library is the heart of town and as a taxpayer I ask you to continue funding it in the level needed to support the work it does and find your cuts elsewhere."

The council's proposal for additional cuts is pending on a legal opinion by Borough Attorney Saverio Cereste because the governing body wants to include the cost of utilities and insurance in the Library's budget based on the current formula of a third of a mil. The borough's contribution to the library is 33 cents on each $1000 of assessed value per residence. By state law, a library can not be funded under the third of a mil.

"Utilities are vital to the existence of not only the library but also the town," Library Board trustee Mary Kay McHugh said. "Our highest costs were following the power outages when the library was open and residents could charge laptops or cell phones, some used the computers to do work because they could not get to work. Even the police department was using the library as a back-up generator."

"I love the library and use it all the time," Kate Jerone said. "I'd ask the council to think about property values. You want to think of someone looking for a house in town and they will see that Ridgewood, Oradell or New Milford have new books all the time at theirs and wind up thinking do I want to buy a house in a town that does not support education as part of the library. If I was looking for a house now I wouldn't buy in this town. I go to Ridgewood and Oradell and they say it's such a shame River Edge doesn't support it's own library."

The council could receive a legal decision from Cereste regarding the Library's utilities by Monday's work session meeting.

John R. Fugazzie February 25, 2012 at 07:09 PM
Neighbors-helping-Neighbors members from River Edge filled the seats...Councilman Bartelloni commented that he has never seen a crowd this large ever at a Saturday 8am budget meeting... Mayor also commented that he and the council had recieved over 50 emails. Our groups Thursday night meeting room is in jeapody if the library has to reduce their regular hours open from 50 a week to the 43 a week that Daragh said would be the result of this cut if it is made by the council.
Sue R February 25, 2012 at 07:43 PM
The library is a valuable resource to each and every resident of our community. The return on investment of that $46,000 of the budget is worth so much more than dollars alone. I hope the mayor and council understand that after listening to everyone's appeals today. The percentage of the town's total budget allocated to the library has decreased over the last 5 years. Reducing it even further will be detrimental to our library's ability to provide meaningful, valuable resources to our residents.
Adam Herbst February 26, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Although the town council claims that the 1/3 of a mil formula sets aside enough money for the library, it goes ahead and depletes that money for items that seem non-library related. The town council seemed incapable of giving a direct response to the question of which other departments paid for their own insurance and utilities. Clearly, this is the camel's nose in the tent - it is only a matter of time before the town council charges that library for doing its payroll and other nickel and dime items.
Michael Barry February 26, 2012 at 09:30 PM
Everyone has to tighten thier economic belts in a severe recession and the library is no different. As nice as it may be to have it open, a limited budget requires that we prioritize spending and that means public safety (police, fire and EMS) gets full funding first. It's that simple...
Happy RE Citizen February 27, 2012 at 03:36 PM
But, is it a matter of just two line items in the Town Budget? Public Safety and The Library? I think the Town Council has a tough job with their budget (same with the schools and the library and all departments, of course) and I'm glad they're open to public comments during this process. They can seek funding cuts elsewhere - reducing other costs or possibly generating more revenue as new businesses come to town. The actual amount of the proposed budget on our taxes is about 1.4% of the average resident's bill. I doubt this is compromising our public safety services. So many people want to help others - ESL Volunteers, Neighbors Helping Neighbors participants, Class leaders (meditation, Tai Chi, etc.). Libraries aren't just books and story time anymore. We do benefit from the traditional services, but the WHOLE TOWN benefits from everything else they offer, as it makes River Edge a better place to be. (Now...why didn't I think of charging my cell phone there???)

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