Written by Scotch Plains Council Candidate Llewellyn Jones.
Letter to the editor:
School is here and it is time for students to hit the books. But if they were planning on doing some research for a paper at the Scotch Plains Library, they had better not wait until the end of the weekend as the Library will be closed.
My opponent Lou Beckerman voted with Mayor Glover and a narrow 3-2 majority on the Township Council earlier this year for a budget whose only cut was to the Library. A cut that resulted in the following service reductions, amongst others, for 2013:
- Closed on Sundays, starting September 1
- Closed on Mondays until 1 PM, starting July 1
- Eliminate Sunday Concerts
- Eliminate Concert/Arts exhibits coordinator
- Cut Amount Available to Purchase Books
- Cut Amount Available to Purchase Audio Books
- Cut Amount Available to Purchase DVDs
- Cut Amount Available for Technology Equipment
- Cut Fulltime Senior Library Assistant to Part-time, starting Sept 1
- Cut Fulltime Library Assistant to Part-time, starting Sept 1
Because of the Town Council, the Library has cut back its hours on Mondays, will be closed all day on Sunday, has cut its book, audio book and DVD purchases (aren’t these what the Library is supposed to buy so we residents can borrow them?), cut its technology budget and cut two full time staff positions to part time. These cuts represent a case of misplaced priorities. The Library is used by thousands of our residents every month, including lots of senior citizens using the computers as well as many students doing research or needing a quiet place to do their homework.
If elected, I pledge to restore the library’s budget to the level where it was previously funded.
It is also of note that as the Library struggled to minimize the effect of the budget cuts, the Library chose to use the majority of its Reserve State Aid fund, depleting that fund to about $15 thousand. While the Library is funded almost exclusively through our property tax levy, it does receive about $10 thousand per year from the state.
Owing to a past instance where a retirement necessitated paying out unpaid vacation days and put the Library in an unexpected shortfall, the Trustees saw it prudent to set aside these state monies as a rainy day fund. An appropriately sized rainy-day fund is part of good fiscal management guarding against unpredictable events (such as hurricanes or a car driving into the library, both of which have happened!). Regrettably, Township Council budget shenanigans are also a risk the Library trustees must contend with.
While granted the state monies the Library receives are small, that amount is determined based upon how well our township funds the Library. As a result of these cuts, we can expect our state Library aid to be reduced next year.
In trying to explain away why they were making these cuts, an attempt was made to obfuscate by saying the budget cuts were required by the state. Reality is that the state doesn’t fund the Library – aside from the small aforementioned aid – but does dictate a minimum level at which the town must fund the Library. Let me emphasize that point; the state sets a minimum amount for the Library, not a maximum. While it is true that the mandated minimum was reduced year over year, in prior years the town funded the Library above the minimum. So there was no state requirement to cut funding to the Library; it was a deliberate and discretionary cut made by Mayor Glover and the Democrat-controlled Town Council. The only thing unclear is if the assertion was made because this reality was not understood, or because it was thought nobody would pick up on it.
Finally, advocating for a reinstatement of the Library funding does not mean I am a tax-and-spend Republican. On the contrary, I “get it”; I understand that the vast majority of residents are feeling over-taxed. But this year’s budget fails to address, despite this one cut, what true fiscal conservatives and many other astute people know – which is that holding the line on tax rate increases in the long run is only accomplished by holding the line on spending. So while we may share the stated goal of minimizing property tax growth, governing requires making choices between priorities, and I submit that this cut to the Library was not the right priority.
-Llewellyn Jones, candidate for Scotch Plains Council