JAMESTOWN – The first of two community conversations involving the future of the James Prendergast Library will be taking place Wednesday afternoon.
Earlier this month the library board of trustees wrote an article in the Jamestown Post-Journal saying the library could possibly close down within three to four years unless recently cut funding can be restored to help balance its annual operating budget.
Library officials say recent cuts in aid by the city of Jamestown is the main reason why it may be forced to close.
Up until three years ago, the city was committed to giving $350,000 or more to the library – which help to cover anywhere between 25 to 33% of its annual operating budget. But in 2017 the city reduced its aid by $250,000 and another $50,000 was cut in 2018. So for the last two years, the libary has seen just $50,000 a year from the city, which only covers about 6% of the library budget.
Compounding the challenge is an upcoming reduction in state aid. The state library aid formula includes funding from a library’s host community and if that funding sees a significant cut, then the state aid is also cut. Library officials say that means an additional $110,000 in state aid will be eliminated from the library’s revenue stream for next year.
The library’s operating budget for this year is $817,500 (See Chart Below for 11-year budget figures). Just four years earlier in 2016 – when city funding was $350,000 – the total expenses for the library was over $1,280,000. Most of the cuts over the past four years has come out of staffing. In 2016 total salaries and benefits for library staff amounted to over $820,000. This year it is at just $556,000.
But if the library is to see its community funding fulling restored, it’s not likely to come from the city government. Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi has presented a city budget for next year that includes $60,000 for the library – a slight increase over the current year but no where near what the library says it needs. And because of the city’s own financial challenges, it’s unlikely it will be able to fully restore funding back to the $350,000+ level on an annual basis.
As a result, the library board last week said they would be pursuing a 259 vote next May as part of the Jamestown School budget vote. Under New York Education Law §259, libraries are permitted to seek funding directly from school district voters. The matter will simply appear on the school ballot as part of the annual budget vote.
Library officials said they will propose an annual tax levy of $350,000 for the library – the same amount that the city of Jamestown had been giving the library up until two years ago.
The tax rate for the city of Jamestown is currently $23.85 per $1,000 assessed value, but only 3 cents of that rate is earmarked for the library. If the 259 vote is approved, the library “tax rate” would be 23 cents per $1,000 assessed value. That would mean a property in Jamestown valued at $50,000 would pay $11.30 a year for the library.
The library attempted a similar taxing district vote in June 2016, but the total amount it wanted to raise then was $850,000. That effort failed by a vote of 1306 against and 856 in favor. The Library Board is hopeful that reducing that amount by more than half this time around, along with the message that the library could likely close in 3 to 4 years if funding isn’t secured, will lead to a positive outcome this time around.
Wednesday’s meeting begins at 3:30 p.m. in the library fireplace room. A second meeting is also scheduled for Thursday night at 6:30 p.m.