Greenburgh Cuts Further Into Library Budget

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Linda Karesh, president of the Friends of the Greenburgh Library, urged the Town Board to reconsider cuts made to library's budget.
Linda Karesh, president of the Friends of the Greenburgh Library, urged the Town Board to reconsider cuts made to library's budget. Photo Credit: Samantha Kramer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Greenburgh Public Library employees would love the chance to remain open on Sundays. Unfortunately, like many other things, it's just not in the budget.

Library representatives were already unsatisfied when the Greenburgh Town Board allocated $3 million to the library's operating budget, a $378,000 increase from last year.

But after the Town Board met with department heads to finalize the budget over the past few weeks, that increase has dropped by about $30,000, said Cory Deitchman, assistant to the library director. Linda Karesh, president of the Friends of the Greenburgh Library, said the library deserves more.

"You've cut our modest increase, which gives us an infinitesimal increase," Karesh said at a budget hearing Wednesday night. "We're doing more and more for the people of this town with less and less each year."

Library Director Eugenie Contrata has been trying to launch Sunday hours for the library, the one day it closes, and said it would be possible with an additional $40,000. Deichtman said that's unlikely to happen.

"I don't see the Town Board giving us that money," he said.

The library has lost a quarter of its full-time employees due to budget cuts since its opening in 2005, Deichtman said. Without the Friends of the Library contributing annual funds through its book sales, he said, the library couldn't provide the amount of programs that it does.

"Friends of the Library contributed $13,000 last year that we used on programs, which we couldn't have done otherwise, and $15,000 this year," Deichtman said. "They care about the library and want to see it offer as good as services possible. Without Friends, the programming would be very limited."

Town Supervisor Paul Feiner had congratulated the library for its efforts to provide shelter and power outlets to people who lost electricity because of Hurricane Sandy.

"After the hurricane, the Greenburgh Library proved its value," Feiner wrote in an email. "The library staff worked with the town to expand library hours for patrons who needed a place to go during the crisis."

But while Feiner said Wednesday that the budget is still subject to change before it is adopted on Tuesday, no major increases seem to be in store for the library. Feiner wrote in his budget proposal that even though library appropriations were "relatively flat" from last year, a fund balance of $380,000 will ensure the library's services are not reduced.

"In terms of the library, it's not a cut in services. They'll still be able to offer everything they proposed," Feiner said. "We're going to try to run as tight a ship as possible."

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Yes the Library was very useful during the ravages of Hurricane Sandy. But this is not a reason to open wide the financial spigots for the Library. People used the Library as a comfort station with its heating, electric outlets, computer stations and hot water in the bathrooms. They were not there to read Moby Dick or Tale of Two Cities nor those without power at home were there to borrow dvds to watch or books to read in the darkness. Had the Town Supervisor allowed residents to use TOWN HALL during the duration, the full house at the Library would be reduced by another choice. And yes, Town Hall is a wireless Hot Zone. Ask Mr. Feiner why Town Hall with its meeting rooms and cafeteria and vending machines (even a shower) was not similarly purposed.

The truth is that since the Library (in its new building) reopened with twice the space as the old (not twice the parking since it always was available but "too far" from the front door while the new parking of today is even farther away) library, circulation has not increased by even a modest fraction which a 2005 to 2012 comparison would reveal. While the Library is fond of posting the number of library cards issued it does not cite the number of library cards actually in use.
While the library bemoans forced cutbacks in media purchases it does so ignoring greater use of the catalogue of the entire Westchester Library System (WLS) which consists of 38 member libraries. Since 2005, White Plains finally joined the WLS adding its extensive catalogue to the WLS catalogue.

My beef is not that the Greenburgh Library should not be funded adequately but that it rides the same train as the Town Board with both being less than transparent regarding their needs and use of taxpayer funds. While pleading the Fund Balance is tapped out, Feiner allows 5+ summer camps from two overstaffed and duplicative departments, Parks and the TDYCC.
The Town spends enormous amounts of dollars on outside legal counsel due to Feiner's mismanagement and disregard for the law or on defending certiorari claims which could diminish were the Town to commence revaluation and reassessment sooner than later (the "later" because the cost of doing so is being unmentioned until Feiner's next year re-election is secured). Thus, when funding is requested for a legitimate purpose, Sundays for the Library, is proposed, Feiner already has in place a set response: we need to conserve dollars for the coming bad times ahead. Bad times that he alone created, not the national economy, and ultimately yielding less tax revenue or other income to the Town. Hey, remember last Spring's mad rush to amend the Finneran law so that the Town could lease off-season use of the tennis courts? Where is that lease? Either Ferncliff or GameOn should they be allowed to build will bring no revenue to the Town for two years at the least. While creating the problem our Problem Solver buries that his inaction resulted in the WESTHelp lease expiration and with its departure also its $1.2 million of annual rent. So, while preaching that the Town should try to preserve the "rainy day fund" for the coming deluge, he also knows that releasing $40,000 won't in any way affect this scenario.

Nevertheless, and despite the Library Board/Management being truth-challenged, I have, behind the scenes, favored obtaining this what amounts to less than $1 cost per year per unincorporated resident so that the Library can resume Sunday hours. Persons, like Ms. Karesh, in my opinion are well-meaning and have genuine concern for the Library. Unfortunately, these persons do not undertake their own research to determine what is true and what is not. Instead they rely for background upon those who have personal stakes (whether salary or prestige) in distorting the truth. The facts, however, are available and not so difficult to obtain were there interest in doing so.
I am not a believer in the end justifies the means. When the truth is obtainable and the cause is just, there is no excuse for keeping the two apart. Nor is following Feiner's example grounds for the Library doing so.

Whether of not Feiner rethinks withholding the $40,000 (either from adding new money to the Library Budget or even by allowing the Library to retain the $30,000 which no longer addresses a corresponding expense), the Greenburgh Library needs to be open so that those residents who work the other days of the week can use what is also their Library or, to provide a work haven for students or even to allow more opportunities to circulate materials; it is a disgrace and black mark upon Greenburgh's "reputation" such as it is.

But even if Feiner fails to release the funding, the Library has other resources to call upon to achieve Sunday opening. Like the Town, the Library has its own rainy day fund which exists because the Library practices what the Town Board practices: underestimate revenue and overestimate expenses. Plus in years past the Library Budget -- the money granted by the Town Board -- always contained an annual "contingency" line which remained largely untapped. At year end, these dollars are folded into the Library Fund which two year's back had topped $450,000 before it was forcefully depleted by being used to supplement operations. Still, while down considerably from its high point, there is still enough ($130,000) to provide Sunday hours in 2013. Were the Library Fund to be used up entirely, then Feiner would have to confront an angry public denied access to the Library (reduced hours) in lieu of sanctioning the continued support of 5+ summer camps by two departments. And since many of the same public use both the summer camps and the Library, this might be enough cause for Mr. Feiner to stop worrying about Fire Districts, bike lanes on the TZ bridge, how the County and Albany are run and get down to the one responsibility that is his paid obligation to undertake: the running of the Town of Greenburgh.

And, here's another thought on how to finance Sunday hours. We all know how dedicated the 5 person Town Board is; how concerned they are about the Library; how concerned about the Town's fund balance; how concerned they are about rising taxes and staying within the 2% cap and, how these concerns also justify frozen salary increases for the rank and file...there is and always has been an, unseen by the public, exercised substantial pay increase available to this so concerned Town Board: the insurance buyout. The Town provides full health insurance to full-time Town staff AND to the PART TIME Town Board members (their participation allowed by Town Board vote). Should ANY person eligible for health insurance elect not to take the Town's health insurance perk, they are entitled to be compensated for not doing so and the amount they are entitled to in lieu of being covered IS a savings to the Town. The cost to the Town had reached around $17,000 for family coverage and the buyout in lieu around $9,000. This is not a local matter but rather one dictated by State law. So whereas the issuance of the buyout is required for those not taking the Town coverage, the ACCEPTANCE of the $9000+ is not required. Part time members of the Town Board who pocket this amount (do so because their spouse's employment also provides health coverage) are in effect getting an annual payout which does not appear separately in the Town Board Budget. Indeed, one member of the Town Board gets both lifetime Town Coverage (as a former employee) and the buyout benefit. Thus, were the Part Time Town Board to forego these "raises" and dedicate/donate or direct these proceeds to the Library, the Library would be welcoming patrons starting Sunday January 6, 2013.

Thus there are lots of possibilities whereby the taxes already paid by incorporated residents could allow the Library to be open on Sundays.
The Library or its volunteer emissaries have a legitimate beef regarding being closed. They needn't resort to misrepresentations or bending the truth to sustain a just cause. Drop the charades and stand-up proudly and do so honestly and with integrity and more residents might be recruited to the cause.
I know that this person would be more inclined to support the Library were it to "be true to your school" (B. Wilson).

Hal Samis

Let me start by claiming that I was the linchpin of recent activity to get the library the $40,000 it says is sufficient to return to Sunday hours (the Daily Voice was sent emails by me in advance of the Budget hearings to support this claim). Unfortunately the Library Board and the Library management did NOT support the effort to be funded for Sunday in either their appearance before the Town Board at the Work Session OR during the Public Hearing.
During the Wednesday Public Hearing on the Budget, only I and Ms. Karesh spoke for the Library.

I have long been critical of how the library operates and not without cause.
The current head in the sand approach is but one reason for my frustration with the management policies in effect and the management. Many persons regard one of the chief missions of the library to be that of providing information. What you have read in this article is but the most recent example a library given to willingly surrounding itself with disinformation.

By what measure has the Library Budget increased by $378,000? The Library Budget for 2012 as it appears in the Adopted Budget of 2012 is $3,162,076.
As 2012 is represented in the 2013 draft Budget, the 2012 Budget now reads $3,410,492 modified to $3,164,711 and estimated to end the year as $3,063,919.
The to be voted upon 2013 Budget as it appears in draft form is $3,213,461.
Take the highest number, $3,410,492 and subtract "2013's" $3,213,461 and you get a difference of $197,031.
Regarding the $30,000 drop, this does not appear any of the above figures because it is merely a "wash" and reflects a negotiated lower expense for insurance cost.

The Library is fond of citing 2005, the high-water mark of its spending, as the year in which all future spending should be measured. That mistakes in the past were made which allowed over-spending is no basis to continue faulty judgement or spending excesses. When the lay public reads that the Library has lost a quarter of its full time employees, it sounds shocking because when you visit the Library you see lots of faces in staff positions. Thus you might be led to believe that this loss translates into 20+ persons. What you see scurrying about are Part-Time positions. The Library currently has a full-time staff of 21 and has indeed incurred a loss of 9 employees. However, included in this "cutback" is the trimming of redundant positions, a bus driver for a cybermobile which no longer exists and a 1-2 librarians to accompany the bus, a $60,000 Public Relations position (not found in any other Department) AND staff coverage for Sunday hours which ended.
Maybe readers are getting a clue to my dissatisfaction with how the Library chooses to release information when pleading its case for inclusion with other righteous appeals such as the flag, motherhood and apple pie. The problem for me is not with the concept of libraries or their purpose but with those persons who run the Greenburgh Library.

You might also ask, typical of the silence when the Library Budget was being discussed by both the Town Board AND at the Budget Hearings, where was the Library? For that matter, why does this article settle for the Assistant to the Library Director when in the Library Budget of any year is a Library Director and as Assistant Library Director in addition to the here appearing Assistant to the Library Director -- not a typist position. Hiding? Perhaps the reporter could have waited for them to appear.

As for 2005 vs 2012 in general, 2005 is NOT the year of the opening of the Library as reported. Time for a break, I'll be back.
Hal Samis