State bill would limit library funding hikes

Mayor, council say mandated increases are taking toll on boro


Jamesburg officials may see relief from budgetary woes if state legislators pass a bill that would reduce the mandated library funding increases to 4 percent per year.

Otto Kostbar Otto Kostbar Set to go before lawmakers later this month, the bill would put libraries on an even keel with the 4 percent spending cap placed on municipal budgets.

“The bill was written on our behalf,” Mayor Anthony LaMantia said. “Every entity in the municipality should be the same.”

State Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D-14) penned the bill after working with Jamesburg’s governing body to eke out a solution to the conundrum of providing mandated library funding while staying within the state’s new spending cap on municipal budgets.

“The governor’s office is, from what I understand, committed to working on it,” Greenstein said.

State law dictates that the town must give its library onethird of a mill (a mill is one-tenth of a cent) per $100 of assessed value in the municipality. Due to the rising value of properties in Jamesburg over the past decade, that formula has forced the town to increase its library expenditures by about 15 percent each year. The library operated on $170,000 in municipal funds last year.

Borough officials were anticipating similar numbers this year, but because of a downturn in real estate values, the library saw an 8.9 percent increase. Despite the lower funding, LaMantia said it still affected the budget, making cuts necessary.

“They still think that’s too much,” said Carole Hetzell, a member of the Jamesburg Public Library board of trustees. “They just think everyone should get 4 percent. In a town like Jamesburg, [the library] is the only facility that’s for every person in town – from the elderly to the toddlers and everyone in between. In my mind’s eye, it should get precedent.”

Hetzell said the Board of Trustees is opposed to the bill, which she said would force the board to make significant cuts in the library’s operations.

“It will really curtail us drastically,” Hetzell said.

Councilman Otto Kostbar, former president of the library board of trustees, said the board passed a resolution to support a change in the funding formula this past fall, and Hetzell voted in favor of it.

“I’m just surprised,” Kostbar said. “I thought we were all on the same page.”

According to Hetzell, Greenstein surprised her as well, by sponsoring the bill to put libraries on par with the municipal budget spending cap after a failed attempt to get library funding placed outside the cap last year.

“I just am very worried that it’s going to pass, because the governor is cutting everywhere,” Hetzell said.

The mandates passed down by Gov. Jon Corzine are precisely why the Jamesburg governing body is pushing for the proposed bill, according to LaMantia and Kostbar. With the spending cap, essential services in town, such as public safety, are going under the paring knife, LaMantia said.

Kostbar pointed out that while the library receives mandatory funding increases regardless of its annual budget, the borough’s police department must sometimes forgo necessities like additional officers or patrol cars in order to keep taxpayers from shouldering a major burden.

The library is not required to submit an annual budget, which Kostbar said should also be changed.According to Kostbar, when the library was left with $900 at the end of last year, instead of it being saved for the following year, it was distributed to employees as bonuses.

“Can you imagine if the council ever did that?” Kostbar said. “We’re only asking that the increase they get is within the 4 percent spending cap. Nobody wants to hurt anybody here. We just want the library to work with us a little bit. Let the library show us what they need the money for.”A

ccording to Hetzell, the funding is needed to purchase new books and other media, and keep programs up and running, especially those geared toward children. She said that while the kids’ programs are free of charge now, it might become necessary to charge a fee in the future.

The 4 percent cap on increases would also likely affect the library’s hours of operation, Hetzell said.

“It will really curtail us drastically,” she said.

Kostbar did not see it the same way. Like other departments, the library could make adjustments to meet the state-imposed spending cap, he said. For example, Jamesburg’s library charges less than most towns in the area for cards for outof town patrons, Kostbar said. Increasing those fees would help, as well as instituting fees for programs and DVD lending, he said.

“I’m probably the biggest library user in the town,” Kostbar said. “When we’ve gone to observe the children’s programs, they don’t seem to be heavily utilized.”

Kostbar also said that while he uses the library on Sundays, there are rarely any other patrons there – an indication that doing away with Sunday hours would not present a hardship for residents.

“They don’t need the money. They’re swimming in money,” Kostbar said.

Last summer, the Borough Council considered holding a referendum to let residents decide whether to close the library, or possibly change it to an association library, which would receive discretionary funding from the town. Officials decided against the measure after meeting with state officials in August.

Kostbar pointed out that the outstanding and soon-to-be expanded Monroe Township Library is in close proximity, and its administrators have stated that they are willing to help Jamesburg in light of the town’s financial issues.

“I love our library,” Kostbar said. “It’s a wonderful little library. We just have to get this stuff under control.”