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Journal News, The (Westchester County, NY)

June 2, 2003

Library funding a unique process

Author: Barbara Livingston Nackman; Staff
The Journal News

Section: News
Page: 3B

Index Terms:
GWP- Westchester and Putnam

Estimated printed pages: 3

Article Text:

New Rochelle's budget struggle highlights issue

Barbara Livingston Nackman

The Journal News

The financial impasse between the city of New Rochelle and its public library has proven what many library professionals know quite well: Library funding can get complicated and each facility - organized within the community it serves - is unique in its organization and operation.

"Public libraries are funded locally. Though it is not as simple as it sounds," said Maurice J. Freedman, president of the American Library Association and director of the Westchester Library System, a cooperative of 38 member libraries based in Ardsley.

There are municipal libraries serving one or more locales, libraries within school district boundaries and libraries dipping into portions of neighboring communities.

"Support for public libraries is 99 percent local. Every library is independent and autonomous. We set our own policy and board of trustees. Money comes from taxpayers we serve," said Larchmont library director Diane Courtney, president of the New York Library Association, a statewide library trade association.

Nationally, there are even greater varieties in library funding, Freedman said.

In New England, there is one public library per town because of the strong independence of each locality. County libraries and district facilities with branches are the mainstay in Minnesota and California, he explained.

The New Rochelle Public Library, though, is a small city school district public library.

Mandated by state law - a 1996 statute that had gone undetected for years - the residents are required to approve the library's budget, removing the responsibility from the City Council. Two proposed library budgets were defeated last year. A vote on a proposed budget of $2.96 million is before voters tomorrow.

Advocates of the library budget say the library will close its doors July 1 if the measure is not passed, damaging the city's reputation and lowering property values. Opponents argue that it creates a new tax and circumvents the cap on the city's property tax collections.

The majority of funding for each of Westchester's public libraries comes from the local taxpayer, said Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, D-Ossining, chairwoman of the Library Services and Education Technology Committee and a former Ossining library trustee. Her district stretches along the Hudson River from Briarcliff Manor to Philipstown it does not include New Rochelle.

Public libraries are a unique American tradition fostered by Benjamin Franklin with one of the first reading rooms in Philadelphia. Andrew Carnegie funded a vast majority of the country's first library construction projects and inspired other buildings throughout the nation.

"Libraries are fundamental and help define our democracy," Freedman said. "What makes our democracy great is it provides information on all points of view and informs our electorate. Our public library is unique and has provided the standard for public library development worldwide."

The state Education Department, which oversees New York libraries, urges districts to bring their budgets to a public vote because, officials say, most communities consider the library a public asset and approve spending plans.

Libraries cannot levy taxes themselves. They have to go through a school district or municipality, explained Jim Farrell, a library development specialist with the Education Department. State funding goes to library construction projects and, through regional cooperatives, it also provides discounts on computer services, book cataloging and interlibrary loan deliveries, he said.

If unable or unwilling to support a library of their own, residents of New Rochelle will be unwelcome at Westchester's other libraries.

"Trustees have a fiduciary responsibility to their community to protect taxpayer resources. One way is to limit access, especially to a community which refuses to tax itself for library purposes," Farrell said when asked about usage at other local libraries.

Trustees of the Larchmont library - the village borders New Rochelle - have voted to refuse service to New Rochelle residents if their city library budget is rejected and the facility closes.

Reach Barbara Livingston Nackman at bnackman@thejournalnews.com or call 845-228-2272.

Copyright (c) The Journal News. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
Record Number: wst2003060211510169