It started out as a discussion at Wednesday’s City Council meeting about the city’s transition-year budget, but turned into a rallying cry to save libraries from closing.
The council approved by a 7-1 vote the $255.7 million budget for the final six months of this year. That’s because the city is changing from a fiscal year financial cycle (which runs from July 1 of the previous year to June 30 the following year) to a calendar year cycle that starts in January. The lone “no” vote was Steven Fulop, who said the budget was not a solution to the city’s financial problems, and because there is a tax increase built into the budget.
Approving the budget also means a $97.1 million transition-year tax levy, which will add about $20 per tax quarter to a resident’s tax bill.
The approval came with some friction.
The council spoke about the three Jersey City public library branches closing.
West Bergen and Marion are storefront branches located in Donnelly’s ward, while Lafayette is based in Richardson’s ward.
The three called for an amendment to the budget that would allocate $100,000 to help the library system, with an estimated $40,000 to pay the year-long leases for all three branches as well as other expenses.
City Clerk Robert Byrne told them the budget had to be passed in its present form that evening, because it had to be submitted to the state the next morning for approval in order for municipal tax bills to go out in time for residents to pay by the Nov. 1 due date. Business Administrator Jack Kelly recommended the budget to be passed, and suggested funds could be diverted from somewhere in the budget to help the library. Kelly also said a meeting will be scheduled in the future with Library Director Priscilla Gardner to further discuss the library’s financial state. Gardner was not present at the council meeting to hear the discussion.
The library plans to layoff full-time employees, and it also plans to begin a policy requiring library staff to take two furlough days per month while working reduced hours at all remaining locations.
Keeping them open
In the past fiscal year the library received a $7.7 million appropriation from the $509.8 million budget (passed in April), and hoped to receive $8 million to cover the library’s current fiscal year (July 1, 2010 – June 30, 2011). The library system, according to Councilman Michael Sottolano, is currently getting $7.075 million for their budget, about a million less than what they wanted.
Kelly said the library should renegotiate their leases with owners of the buildings where the closed branches are located and utilize any money they had set aside for contingencies.
Sottolano commended the library system for closing the branches, saying library director Gardner was “looking ahead” to future funding cuts on a local and state level. Richardson said she “did not believe” that Gardner would close them for such a reason, and hailed Gardner for doing fund-raisers in the past to save the library from any financial problems.
Donnelly was also fuming over the closings, saying “it makes me sick,” as he worried about the school children and unemployed adults who use the libraries like West Bergen, Marion, and Lafayette on a regular basis.
If the council needed any more encouragement to help the library keep the branches open, several residents spoke out against their closing. Lycel Villanueva, who lives near the Lafayette branch, is one of the organizers of a petition to save that library. She implored the council to help save the branches from closing.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.