Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 50
 
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
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Library Budget Proposes “Modest” Increase Within Cap as Revenues, Patrons Decline

Linda Arntzenius

The board of trustees of the Princeton Public Library reviewed the 2008 budget at a special meeting on Tuesday, December 4.

The budget requests a 3.56 percent increase from the Borough and Township to “accommodate increases in salaries and benefits as well as building costs.”

The increase in the municipal portion of the operating budget is within the 4 percent cap on budget and tax increases facing all municipalities throughout the state. If approved, the municipalities would cover $3,697,503 of the requested $4,652,925 with the balance funded by private donations and grants.

Library Director Leslie Burger pointed out that much of the increase derives from pensions for library staff members, a cost that is mandated by the state. “Although the state has made provisions for the local municipalities to place health, pension, and other benefits outside the cap; this courtesy that has not been extended to the library,” she said. The state mandate cost results in an increase of 84 percent for library pensions from 2007 to 2008.

Property tax reform legislation which was signed into law last year limits municipal tax increases and expenditures to an annual 4 percent and, for the first time, includes the State’s public libraries under the municipal cap.

According to the budget summary distributed at Tuesday’s meeting, although the library’s overall operating budget will increase by 3.31 percent, the library was able to offset these costs by increased revenues from non-tax sources including generous contributions from the Friends of the Library and income from the Library Foundation’s Endowment Fund. However, Ms. Burger noted, the Endowment Policy of the Foundation stipulates that endowment income is intended to supplement municipal and other contributions and is not intended to supplant tax funds for the daily operation of the library.

The municipalities traditionally cover building, maintenance and salary costs, with the funds from the Friends of the Princeton Public Library and the library foundation’s endowment going toward materials, said Ms. Burger, who was quick to point out that the Princeton municipalities went beyond their legal obligations in support of the library.

The budget listed seven priorities for the 2008 capital budget: $40,000 for computer and server replacement; $10,000 for media shelving; $6,000 for supplemental air conditioning in the server room; $25,000 for radio frequency identification chips for material check out, return, and inventory; $25,000 for a second vestibule door to be added to the rear entrance to control heating and cooling loss; $22,000 for additional lighting in the teen area, café, meeting room, and entry way; and $15,000 for computers to provide additional public access catalogs.

The summary included a review of 2007 detailing the decline in library use for the first time in eight years. The decline that began in February when the Borough and Township ended the two-hours of free parking in the Spring Street garage for library users has led to a corresponding reduction in revenues: three percent less in late and rental fees, 14 percent less in computer printer fees, and 15 percent reduction in copier charges. Sales at the library store, operated by the Friends of the Library, declined by 25 percent, and revenues from the café also declined. “We are hopeful that the Borough and the Township, along with library representatives, will reach an agreement that provides for free or subsidized parking as we begin 2008,” said Ms. Burger.

“This is essentially a no-growth budget,” Ms. Burger explained. “The modest increases reflect cost of living adjustments for the staff and increased pension costs now mandated by the State.”

Such a no-growth budget, it was pointed out, conflicts with the library’s strategic plan that includes extended library hours at weekends. Currently the library closes at 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and opens at 1 p.m. on Sundays.

“There is only a small amount requested to support the materials budget, $40,000 versus $62,000 in 2007, leaving us once again totally reliant on the generosity and good will of the community to fund the lifeblood of the library  books, movies, music and licensed content,” said Ms. Burger. “We have held the line on staffing levels, reallocating responsibilities and redefining job descriptions as positions become vacant.”

The budget request was adopted by the board of trustees. It was decided that talks on any increases in rental fees would take place in January.

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