Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 48
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
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Library Prepares for “No-Growth” Budget

Ellen Gilbert

At a Board of Trustees meeting last week, Princeton Public Library Director Leslie Burger reported that “careful planning” during the last year is helping in her effort to create a no-growth budget for the coming year. The decision not to replace two full-time employees who recently resigned also figured in her calculations, along with the “red-pencilling” of non-essential items.

The library’s proposed operating budget for the coming year is $4,573,021, representing a one percent increase from last year, with a request of $37,410 from the Borough and Township.

Costs beyond the library’s control in 2009 include, she said, a mandatory 100 percent employer contribution (equalling $60,000) to the New Jersey Public Employees Retirement System; a three-percent increase associated with the State Health Benefits Plan; increased energy costs; and increased building maintenance costs. Poor market performance in 2008 reduced the library’s endowment contribution for 2009 by $37,298.

In addition to eliminating the two full-time staff positions and their associated benefits, the library is reducing its part-time budget as a result of attrition and reassignment. The only exception to the new hiring freeze will be cases where a position is vital to library operations.

“Staff have been asked to work harder, and we’re trying to reduce costs,” Ms. Burger said. Employees who in the past received three-and-one-half percent annual salary increases will probably receive three percent in the coming year, which is consistent with current plans for Borough employees. A longevity payment program for employees who would have become eligible in 2009 has been eliminated; other staff have been grandfathered for the future.

Money saved by a recent cut in print and digital subscriptions and orders for reference books will be applied to the budget for circulating books. Other measures described by Ms. Burger included shopping for better insurance, and rebidding custodial supplies. Heavy snowfalls would pose a financial problem and Ms. Burger half-jokingly warned Board members to prepare themselves for early-morning shoveling.

Should monies from the Borough, Township, State, and other revenue sources fail, Ms. Burger said that the “next step would be to reduce personnel and library hours.” She said that she could not, “in good conscience,” suggest reducing the library’s book budget. Mayor Mildred Trotman, who was present at the meeting, was unable to say how much money might be forthcoming from the Borough, observing that “we just don’t know where we’re going yet.”

Although less-trafficked times at the library have been identified — Ms. Burger noted that Mondays are quieter — reducing hours is, she said, “a kind of dance” in which the implications for full- and part-time employees and the ultimate cost-effectiveness of closing down the building have to be factored in. Besides closing for one a day a week, other possible ways of reducing service hours include intermittent closings throughout the year, layoffs, and employee furloughs. Ms. Burger concluded her report by noting that “we would do our best to minimize disruption to the public in whatever reduction plan we would implement.”

A happier accompaniment to the budget discussion at Tuesday’s meeting was a “staff spotlight” appearance by shelving supervisor Sonja Vloeberghs. The Belgian native described how her various assignments at the library have helped her learn English, assist borrowers, and devise a more efficient shelving system for patrons who found it difficult to read the spines of books on high shelves. Of her data entry assignments Ms. Vloeberghs said, with some awe, “I couldn’t believe how many people apply for a library card here every day.”

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