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RW Library Trustees: We Need to Talk About the Budget

Trustees say they need to find $100,000 to avoid closures, looking to community for help developing ideas and support

[Editor's note: The following letter to the editor was sent by members of the Ridgewood Library Board of Trustees.]

An Open Letter to the Ridgewood Community:

The has a history of being one of the most innovative, capable and widely used community resources in the county and one of the top libraries in the state. As members of the board of trustees, we are dedicated to ensuring that it builds on that history without losing sight of .   

Our library is at a critical moment in its history.  As you’ll see the decisions that we make together as a community on the funding of the library will set the course for what it can achieve in the next five years and beyond.  We want to outline for our neighbors the nature of the challenge and solicit your input on the right way to proceed.  

Not only is the library an important educational resource for our school age population the library provides valuable educational services to the whole community.  In addition to having the third highest materials circulation in the county we have more than double the program attendance of any other Bergen County library. These programs benefit a wide variety of diverse groups in our community.  We’re all aware of the award-winning children’s programs but we have lesser publicized programs as well. There is an for many of the homes in our village where English isn’t spoken at home. We have a career networking group that meets right next to the resources they need to advance their job searches.  Our innovative young adult programs, coordinated and run by young adults, constructively engage teens in ways that go beyond text messages, keyboards and first-person shooters.

It would be easy to conclude that in the age of iPads, Kindles, Nooks and other e-readers that the library would slowly become obsolete. Nothing could be further from the truth.  . E-books are available to borrow from the library today and will be more and more available over time.  We are also filling a need in helping people get the most from their devices though introductory courses in using these readers. Increasingly we are seeing that the library providing an outlet for people as a vital community center.  A place for groups to meet, connect, dive deep and enjoy.

In NJ there are . The minimum is tied to real estate values.  It's no surprise then that the amount that the minimum amount is decreasing. It's fallen over 7% since 2009.  

The trustees have been good stewards of the village's investment in the library. The amount we spend on salaries has decreased since 2009. We have taken advantage of attrition by promoting staff from within and not replacing some staff that have left us.  We have taken steps to reduce costs through an outsourcing arrangement for cleaning and maintenance services that will save money every year.  We have moved to a greater mix of volunteer staff than in past years.  Our staff has been ahead of the curve on vesting periods and contributing to their health insurance costs.  

Costs that we have little control over have risen, sometimes dramatically.  In 2009 our benefits cost was $400,000.  In 2011 it was $520,000; an increase of 30%.  In 2004 our state mandated funding for pensions was $22,000 and in 2011 is was $163,000.  Since these costs are so challenging to control they are managed outside the operating budgets of other village departments.  They remain part of the library’s operating budget.

In the past two years we have tried a number of ideas to close budget gaps created by this falling funding.  The team at the library came up with innovative programs to raise revenues including renting rooms to businesses and charging for high quality color printing and copying.  We have reluctantly reduced operating hours and materials spending to reduce expenses.  We have reached into long-held principle in what have been savings accounts.  We were very grateful that last year our village council voted unanimously to increase our funding by $35,000 above the minimum to help us limit closings and maximize our operating hours.  

Our challenge is that our gap this year cannot be filled with the tactics that we have used in the past.  In order to not dramatically increase the days that the library is closed and restore the operating hours to the 2009 levels, we will need a funding increase from the village of roughly $100,000.       

We know that a vibrant library will continue to be an asset to the education of our whole community young and old.  We know that the library is a jewel that attracts families to come to Ridgewood and stay in Ridgewood.  We know it plays a central role in our community in times of emergency like in the October snowstorm when people gathered at the library even though it was dark and cold.  We know this because our neighbors tell us.   

We want to know what you think!  If maintaining the excellent educational and community resource at the level that it has been is important to you or if you have an idea for closing our funding gap we ask that you email us at Trustees@RidgewoodLibrary.org.  We are open to all ideas big and small.  We look forward to hearing what you have to say and continuing this important conversation.


John Saraceno, President
Elisa Legg, Vice President
John Johansen, Treasurer
Arlene Sarappo, Secretary

Boyd A. Loving February 15, 2012 at 02:31 PM
I agree; the Ridgewood Public Library is one of the State's best and it would be wonderful to retain this premier status. However, the Village budget is extremely tight. Dozens of Village workers have been laid off in recent years and many municipal services have suffered as a result. Several major thoroughfares are in dire need of repaving, flood mitigation plans need to be implemented for the HoHoKus Brook and Saddle River, and public safety radio communications systems must undergo a major upgrade by year end. With all of this and more facing Village Council members, an extra $100K is going to be a difficult goal to achieve.
melanie stern February 15, 2012 at 03:14 PM
Allocation of budget money among competing interests will always be difficult. A lot of people in town are beginning to realize that the library has been given a smaller and smaller portion of the pie over the last several years. The library got less money from the village last year than the year before and we all had a tax increase of 7.4%. This is a great conversation because the community needs to communicate their priorities and how our tax money is spent. The people I talk to know the importance of education and providing opportunities like free after school tutoring, resume building, access to computers and nurturing our children’s literacy. They want to invest in these important areas and make trade-offs in other areas.
Dominick Nizza February 15, 2012 at 05:24 PM
I guess it's time to sell more bricks with family names on them that support the Library.
Boyd A. Loving February 15, 2012 at 06:15 PM
We've stopped paving streets, we've stopped cleaning streets with the exception of the CBD, it takes longer to pick up leaves, there's no longer an Animal Control Officer in the Health Department, Graydon's hours were scaled back, the Rec Center director was cut, and more. What else do you want cut? Maybe we should lay off some fire fighters and police officers in order to push additional funds to the Library? Look around the Village; a lot has been lost in the past few years. No organization except public safety should be immune to cuts.
Dominick Nizza February 15, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Those family name library Bricks can be water proofed now don't you think? 1,000 bricks at $100 each should do it. Who is buying the first one?
Gary J Negrycz February 15, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Let's give less I.e. smaller increases to the teachers ,let them pay a larger share of their health and pension benefits and lo and behold we can keep the library going
Dominick Nizza February 15, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Some people just keep using other people's money and none of their own.
James Kleimann February 15, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Let me test the waters here – do you folks think this would be a good subject of a poll (albeit, an unscientific one)? Something like, "Should the village fund the $100,000 request from library trustees or spend money elsewhere?"
John Q. February 15, 2012 at 09:32 PM
This is really quite simple. The library is funded by a percentage of property taxes as determined by law. Now that real estate values have fallen (from artificially high levels) the library funding is down. The Trustees need to find a way to cut $100,000 in expenses to meet the income. Same task all Americans are facing every day. To ask for $100,000 from the town is short sighted. What are you going to do next year when income may stay the same, and costs continue to rise? Ask for $200,000? Income rises.....spending increases. Income falls.......spending decreases. Unless of course you raise additional revenue some other way.
John Q. February 15, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Would be helpful to know what the library received from taxes for each of the last 10 years. Where is this information available?
James Kleimann February 15, 2012 at 09:46 PM
Hey John, Somewhere in my paperwork I do have a big spreadsheet of past years. Not sure it goes back a decade (I haven't seen it in a few months). I'll look around.
Boyd A. Loving February 15, 2012 at 11:21 PM
The largest line item in any organization's budget is salary expense. Quite simply, the Library needs to figure out how to maintain the same level of service with fewer people. The Directors' letter above states that selected vacant positions aren't being filled, but have there been any layoffs, as there were at Village Hall?
Michael February 16, 2012 at 11:32 AM
The Ridgewood Library is the local version of the USPS problem - not knowing when to change their model. Beautiful building, many resources but a slipping demand, Over 10 years ago, many stopped using the library and went to Barnes & Noble to hang out, read, do work, etc. Plus, you had a cafe. Now, even Barnes & Noble is shrinking as carbon-based media is being traded for its digital alternative. Number of employees, salaries, benefits and pension costs are bloated at a time when demand is on the decline. It may be a world-class facility, but it's fast becoming a world class mausoleum.
Dominick Nizza February 16, 2012 at 12:14 PM
A little creative fund raising needed for Libraries like this one. Click here for Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBfiNaGyfwk
AMAMOM February 16, 2012 at 12:46 PM
Michael, Have you ever been to the library? It is a bustling happy place full of everyone from kids to seniors and mid lifers looking for employment resources. Actually the problem is the business model, nearly everything is free and in times like these when everyone is looking for a bargain and municipal budgets are shrinking something has to give.
Dominick Nizza February 16, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Maybe the Chamber can get behind that fund raising suggestion?
rhoda schermer February 16, 2012 at 02:39 PM
The Ridgewood Library is a treasure for all ages. There are increasingly few places where one can get the breath and scope of the books available there and a quiet place to review all varieties of reading materials. Libraries are the bedrock of a quality community and the Ridgewood Library is something we all should be proud of and support.
Boyd A. Loving February 16, 2012 at 03:54 PM
My prediction: a dozen or so library supporters (including a few school children) will appear before the Village Council at an upcoming meeting and plead for funds to restore 2009 service levels. The current Council will cave and provide relief; they just seem unable to say no regardless of the circumstances. Say hello to potholes and dirty streets for the next decade ladies and gentlemen.
Dominick Nizza February 16, 2012 at 05:47 PM
"Prediction comment Council will cave in" I Recall one Councilman saying, "If you don't like what I'm doing, vote me out at the next election". You know that's exactly what will happen at next election. Have any more picked up their nominating packets yet?
Ridgewood Mom February 16, 2012 at 09:52 PM
Good point Pete.
Ridgewood Mom February 16, 2012 at 09:59 PM
I agree with AMAMOM. The library is bustling. Technology is a wonderful enhancement to our lives, but it definitely isn't replacing the function of the RPL. It is still an essential resource and one of the draws of our community.
Ridgewood Mom February 16, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Perhaps we could sell bricks or have a bake sale to cover the Village manager's salary increase and the incentive "bonuses" he has royally doled out. Then we could simply fund the essential services, such as the library, that we pay our taxes for in the first place.
John Johansen February 16, 2012 at 11:46 PM
John Q., We thought your question on the history of appropriations to the library was a great one and we wanted to make that data available for people to see. We've prepared two exhibits that are in the "photo" section of this thread. One is a chart the other is a table of numbers. The table of numbers shows the village appropriation amount, how much the village funded over the statutory minimum, the percentage that was funded over the minimum, the percentage of the total village budget spent on the library and the total village budget for that year. You'll see that the average the library has received since 1997 is 5.6% of the total village budget. In recent years the library funding has been less than that average. Last year the library percentage of the village budget was lower than any other year since at least 1997. The chart shows the library appropriation (and the village budget) since 1997 with 1997 as a baseline year. You'll see that in 2007 the lines almost meet. That means that between 1997 and 2007 the increase in the library appropriation was roughly equal to the increase in the village budget. After 2007 the lines diverge as the library appropriation stayed relatively flat and was down in the past two years. We welcome any suggestions this more detailed information triggers and look forward to answering questions that come up. John
John Johansen February 16, 2012 at 11:49 PM
One thing that I do want to make clear: We have a proposed line item in the table of numbers. There is a number for the village budget in there for 2012. That is not an announcement -- we simply wanted to show the measures against a village budget that was flat between 2011 and 2012. Figuring out what that number will be for 2012 is well above my pay grade.
John Q. February 17, 2012 at 02:16 AM
Thanks for the information. It was helpful. I looked at the data a little differently. Annual increase in dollars from 1997 to 2005 averaged a little under 3% per year. Increase in 2006 was 5.155%, increase in 2007 was 12.095%, increase in 2008 was 4.262%, increase in 2009 was 1.554%, 2010 decreased 1.704%, and 2011 decreased 1.865%. If the funding for 2012 was an additional $35,000 , instead of $100,000, it would represent a 1.593% increase, and the average of the last six years would be slightly above 3%. The percentage increase would be in line with the pre-2007 historical average, there is a rational basis for the amount, it is somewhat in line with increased costs, and it is a figure everyone should be able to live with.
John Q. February 17, 2012 at 02:23 AM
By the way, I only looked at the first column in your chart. The annual increase or decrease in funding is what matters, not how your figures compare to other budgets. The library budget should stand on it's own, and the other budgets should stand on their own.
Anonymous Guy February 17, 2012 at 02:40 PM
perhaps take on the higher salary employees, like the director who is ineffective anyway... Just a thought.

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