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Journal News, The (Westchester County, NY)

January 29, 2003


Author: Sean Gorman; Staff
The Journal News

Section: News
Page: 3B

Index Terms:
ANP-North and Putnam

Estimated printed pages: 3

Article Text:

Hiram Halle library pushes for tax district

Officials to present plan for new funding method on Feb. 13

Sean Gorman

The Journal News

Seeking a more reliable source of money to cover growing costs, officials at the Hiram Halle Memorial Library want to pay for their operations by creating a library tax district.

Hiram Halle, which operates on a mix of donations, town money, grants and endowment money, is faced with higher costs of fixing its aging building, part of which started as a one-room schoolhouse in the 1850s. The library, which has about 3,000 members, has a $325,000 annual budget.

"It is extremely difficult to get money for our operations," said Marilyn Tinter, the library's director. "We're really suffering."

The Town Board has scheduled a meeting Feb. 13 to inform the public about the plan to create the district, which would have to be passed by a referendum. Library officials are not sure what the tax rate in the library district would be.

The old building with its aging furnace and leaky roof isn't helping the financial situation. John Porter, president of the library's board of trustees, remembered going into the library a couple of years ago and finding containers of water throughout the building being used to catch leaks during a downpour.

"It needs frequent maintenance, which is a real drain," Porter said. "These increased maintenance costs are just getting more and more difficult to deal with."

If Hiram Halle, which opened its doors in 1952, succeeds in creating a tax district, it would join a growing list of public libraries statewide that use the method to finance their operations, said Valerie Chevrette, a spokeswoman for the New York State Library, which oversees libraries in the state.

"This is something that, yes, more libraries are doing, and actually, we are encouraging libraries to do," Chevrette said.

A tax district gives residents more say in the library's operation because the public votes on its annual budget and board of trustees, Chevrette said.

"When people do have an opportunity to vote for the library budget, what happens is that library funding generally improves," she said. "It generally provides a more constant source of funding."

Voters in several school districts throughout Westchester and Putnam counties vote on their local library's budgets. In Mamaroneck village, the public library district started in the early 1990s when the library there was hamstrung by a lack of money.

"Every year, we would go to the village and plead our case with every other group," Joan Grott, director of the Mamaroneck Public Library District, said about the competition for money. "We became a district. Our finances improved. Our building got repaired, and we have never been busier."

Maurice Freedman, director of the Westchester library system, said tax districts take away the unknown that comes with raising part of an operating budget through contributions.

"You're not as subject to the highs and lows of donations ... the people vote on the budget and that's that," Freedman said. "With donations, you're never sure what you're going to get."

The level of Hiram Halle's donations has remained fairly constant the last five years, while the town's contribution to the library has risen, Porter said.

"It's not enough for them, and it's not steady enough either," Supervisor Joy Simpkins said about the town's contribution. "They need a better source of funding ... We think it (a library district) is a fine idea.

"We have a wonderful library, and we want to be able to maintain it."

The district would be confined to Pound Ridge. In order to create it, the Town Board would have to pass a resolution backing it and state lawmakers in Albany would have to sign off on having a referendum to approve it.

The meeting will be at 8 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Town House, at 179 Westchester Ave.

Reach Sean Gorman at sgorman@thejournalnews.com or 914-666-6481.

Copyright (c) The Journal News. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
Record Number: wst2003012915022493