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Three Middletown Library Branches Likely Closing

The Bayshore, Navesink, and Lincroft branches are slated for closure. Cuts to Library services will be discussed on Wed., Dec. 19th, 7 p.m. at the main branch.

The Middletown Library Board will meet at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, December 19 at the Library’s main branch on 55 New Monmouth Road.  The meeting is open to the public.  If you care about your Library, you will not want to miss this opportunity to help shape its future as service cuts loom.  See the meeting agenda here.

A lot has gone on with regard to our Library over the last two years.  In 2011, under pressure to do so, the Library Board agreed to transfer $499,947 of Library funds to the Township. That was followed in mid-2012 by an unexpected, and potentially excessive, increase of several hundred thousand in the amount charged by the Township for services it handles on the Library’s behalf.  There were also significant changes to the Library Board’s membership this year.

The Library’s primary source of funding comes from its municipal appropriation.  The minimum funding level, established by law, is based on equalized valuations for properties in the Township.  The municipal appropriation is $3,470,977 for 2013 and has declined almost $700,000 since 2009 in line with reduced property values.  Prior to the 2011 transfer of funds to the Township, the Library had about $1.3 million in reserves.  That may sound like a lot, but it is clear how quickly revenue reductions and expense increases can change the Library’s financial picture.  Reserves are necessary to maintain the level of services from year to year, and are also set aside for capital improvements.  I am not sure of the amount of reserves available now.  It may be a few hundred thousand, but that is hardly enough if funding levels continue to drop and extraordinary expenses – such as replacement of aging air conditioning and heating units – arise. 

http://www.lincroftvillagegreen.org/pdf/LibraryBudgetFACTS_FINAL.pdf

As mentioned above, the Township handles certain functions for the Library, mainly payroll, benefits, and insurance coverages.  The Library reimburses the Township for these “chargebacks”, a common arrangement for many towns.  For 2012, the Township significantly increased the amount of the chargeback for the year by $338,493, representing more than a 30% increase from the prior year, as spelled out in the following letter to the Library Board this June: 

http://ia601209.us.archive.org/25/items/MiddletownTownshipChargebackLetter6712/DOC062112.pdf

My review of the 2012 chargeback analysis uncovered significant overcharges for certain line items.  For a detailed explanation, see the letter I wrote on this topic:  http://archive.org/details/DivisionOfLocalGovernmentServicesLetter

It is important to scrutinize the 2012 chargeback calculation because inaccuracies may perpetuate into future years.  Unfortunately, the Library trustees quickly approved the chargeback without asking questions or demanding answers, even after errors were brought to their attention.

The Township determines the chargeback amount annually and removes that amount from the Library’s municipal appropriation monies under the Township’s control.  (This year some monies also came from the Library’s other funds, like fines & copier fees, to pay the bill.)  Historically, the Library has little say in the determination of the chargeback, has never not paid the chargeback, and has received little supporting documentation for any year to verify the accuracy of the amount charged.  In spite of that, Township officials are now claiming that the Library did not pay its share of pension costs for one or more prior years.  This accusation is unfair since the chargeback calculation was not within the Library’s control.  Further, if a line item breakdown of costs was not provided for prior years – and I don’t believe one was – the Library would have no way of knowing what costs were included in the total charge.  Regardless, it is not clear to me what this issue has to do with the 2012 chargeback calculation, unless the intent is to justify excessive charges this year, which only leads to more questions about the accuracy of charges in prior years.

Something else I would like to shed light on are the Library employee raises that Township Committee members have been critical of.  The 6% raises were per the 2007 library employees’ contract, running 2007-2009.  The contract broke ground in that it included a contribution toward health benefits of 2% of salary.  Library employees were the first in the Township to start paying toward their health benefits, ahead of police unions who began paying 1.5% in 2010 and other Township employees who began contributing 1.5% in 2011.  The raises were also intended to bring library salaries to competitive levels in order to attract qualified individuals.  Library employees received no raise in 2010, 1% in 2011, and 1% in 2012, and they continue to pay 2% toward health benefits, still more than other employees in the Township.

It is unfortunate that out Library and its dedicated Director, Susan O’Neal, have been the target of harsh and unfair criticism by Township officials.  Our Library has been run successfully for many years under Ms. O’Neal’s leadership, keeping up with changing technology and providing programs that serve residents’ needs.  Monies have been well managed and savings had been accumulated as required to ensure ongoing operations.  But in spite of that, the Library – its Director – has been accused of not being able to live within a budget.  That is absurd.  We are very lucky to have Ms. O’Neal, who is regarded as being at the top of her field and who had the high honor last year of serving as president of the New Jersey Library Association.

Ms. O’Neal had the additional responsibility this year of providing training for 8 new board members -- 7 are new Township appointees and 1 is the School Superintendent's pick.  The new appointments were for various reasons, including term expirations, resignations, and an increase in the size of the Board.  The Board consisted of 7 seats prior to 2012.  The Township Committee added two seats to the Library Board this year, increasing membership from 7 to 9.  Thus, the Board was re-structured in a short amount of time.

In response to criticism over political interference in Library operations, Township elected officials have said that the Library is part of Township and that they would not do anything to harm it.  However, I don’t think anyone can argue that the siphoning of nearly $500K in 2011 and the excessive chargeback in 2012 have harmed the Library, already strained by declining revenues and now facing big cuts that include branch closures, reductions in operating hours, and layoffs.

I hope this post helps residents to better understand the issues that may be addressed at Wednesday night’s meeting.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Gary Junstrom December 21, 2012 at 02:01 AM
Michael Miller, what you said was false. I was at that meeting and what the mayor said was that Middletown was one of the few towns who removed debris for its residents. He said most towns had people rent their own dumpsters because FEMA would reimburse them. Another false thing you said was that the mayor is lazy. Are you kidding? I got dozens of texts, calls, and internet updates from the mayor at all hours of the day and night. I saw the mayor several times at Croydon Hall, town hall and the Port Monmouth fire house. Saying such blatantly false things will only hurt your credibility.
Tony Fiore December 21, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Thank you Gary. I am not even going to dignify that stupid response regarding the Superstorm. As for the Library, I attended the meeting the other night. As much as I don't like it the Director made a clear case that the usage at the 3 branches combined is only 11%. 6% usage in Lincroft, 3% in Bayshore and 2% in Navesink. The Director has recommended closing those branches and further stated that is she was starting a new library system today, she would not open branches. While there is still money left in surplus to run these branches, it is hard to argue the board's position that the storm is going to have an impact on the rateable base for Middletown and can cause a further reduction in their statutory allocation. I want to make it clear that it is not my nor the Township Committee's position or decision to close these branches. However, I do not believe that we are in any position to challenge their decision as it seems economically prudent based on the economy and the usage.
Naomi Carter December 21, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Obviously, Tom, you don't use the Middletown Library as you don't know what you'e talking about when it comes to library programs. There is a plethora of programs for kids, seniors, teens, and those unemployed on a weekly basis. Based upon the populations served, Monmouth County Library's programs are spread throughout their branches so we actually provide more programs in a week than Monmouth County does. Sounds like you're just a mouthpiece of the board. again, it won't benefit Middletown residents to go county but it will certainly benefit Monmouth County residents. Middletown will have to share with tons more people and still pay the same for library taxes only this time the line item with be for the county and not Middletown. Friends of mine who are part of the county system say that the hours are so limited at their town branches, they have to go to ours or all the way to one of the county headquarters (Shrewsbury or Manalapan) if their children have reports requiring actual books. Believe it or not, teachers and schools stil require the use of tangible books. i find it funny that you supposedly owna county card and a Middletown card yet talk about wanting to save money. you'd have to have paid for one of those library cards. Lastly, Union Beach did provide and pay for the dumpsters for residents to use to dispose of their storm-damaged things.
tom nemec December 21, 2012 at 03:07 PM
NAOMI First i self for my self. As you have read in my post i did not call anyone names so if you wish to continue this discussion please refrain from accusations or Insinuate. Yes i do use middletown library often. I also research. theAlso as for hours i wish you would look at the Monmouth county website and you and anyone else can see they have better hours than ours if not exact. Also when i have time i will go through the calendar of both and do a comparison chart if you would like as anyone else can do by going to monmouth county website and seeing first hand what is offered.
bd December 21, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Exactly----there is going to be a very rude awakening for many, many folks very soon. WE----all of us in Milhous's Amerikka---are broke. Middletown, NJ and even Mordor on the Potomac will have to drastically cut spending---because we spent all of ours, our children's, and even our grandchildren's money and now the bill is due. All those nice, shiny presents that Barak-o-clause promised you aren't coming folks---because there's no more money in the account. (but--we can tax the "rich" to buy us 8 more days---then what?????)

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