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Middletown Library Trustees Postpone Branch Closure Decision

But the board also gave formal notice the Navesink, Lincroft and Bayshore branches will be closed on March 1 -- unless a better solution can be found.

After hearing from passionate supporters of the township library branches at a public meeting Wednesday night, the 9-member Middletown Township Library Board of Trustees unanimously decided to postpone a vote on the 2013 budget that could have shut the Navesink, Lincroft and Bayshore branches next week.

The issue will be discussed at the next public meeting on Feb. 20, after a newly formed committee takes a crack at alternative solutions, such as private fundraising, volunteers, reduced hours, or alliances with the Board of Education.

But the very real possibility that a yearly $300,000 shortfall would not be easily raised by other means was reflected in a second motion to close the branches on March 1 "unless some other action is taken by the board." It was passed 6-3. 

"I'm not happy about this. This is the worst day in my professional career, to be perfectly honest," said Library Director Susan O'Neal, a non-voting member on the board, in comments to the room full of 100 people, some of them children. "The fact that you came out, and wanted to talk about it, and there's a promise we might come up with something --- I'll make it happen. I'll do my very best." 

At the board's invitation, three citizens stepped forward to volunteer time to explore solutions with the board's Finance Committee and Director O'Neal. They are Michael Winchell for the Navesink branch, Melanie Elmiger for the Lincroft Branch, and Bernadette Massey of Port Monmouth, for the Bayshore branch. 

O'Neal said the board had discussed the serious budget problems at board meetings in recent months, and came to the painful decision to close the branches on Dec. 3

Before coming to this critical point, the library system's fiscal problems have been festering for the past few years, said O'Neal.

In 2010, the board started transferring money from the reserves to shore up its own operating budget.

In 2011, the board transferred $500,000 to the towship in a chargeback to make up for pension costs -- money that O'Neal said was earmarked to upgrade the aging Lincroft library.

The library's buget is tied to the township's fortunes, and has shrunk with the downturn of assessed taxable property values. In 2009 the budget was $4.1 million. Now, in 2013, it is projected to be $3.4 million. "We had to make up a decline in our funding -- and an increase in expenses -- at the same time," said O'Neal. "The impact has been devastating." 

The effect of Superstorm Sandy on the township's tax base is unknown, but not expected to make anything better. 

Due to attrition, the main library's staff of 40 is already down "six or seven" people, which would make it difficult to maintain the same level of staffing at the branches with fewer employees, O'Neal said. 

Joe January 18, 2013 at 02:20 AM
So Wendy I guess you will open your checkbook to supplement the millions they already get, right?
Joe January 18, 2013 at 02:24 AM
Right Legion - this is just the hapless Democrats fishing for an issue. We have the lowest sewer rates in the state and the best service, with a large portion coming from fees outside of Middletown. Leave it to the Democrats to attack an efficient, low cost entity.
Legion January 18, 2013 at 03:27 AM
So she has the same choice before no matter what library she goes to - either pay more for convenience or drive. I wonder if she goes to the gym weekly - is that in walking distance from her house? Is the place where she gets her coffee in the morning? Let's not make like most people who go to the library - any of them don't have cars, or even the means to purchase books. Things cost money - taxpayer dollars. Stand up for higher taxes if that's what you want. I don't, but that is the only real answer here.
Belford Bob January 18, 2013 at 03:47 PM
So what you are saying is that parents can drive their kids to dance class, karate school, or to athletic events throughout the town, but they can't drive them to the library????
Linda Baum January 18, 2013 at 05:27 PM
Board members don't deserve compensation, and it doesn’t matter what public funding source they are paid from, whether it’s TOMSA’s budget or the Township’s. TOMSA is a public entity, so the revenue is public money. Many people are not aware that for each of the last three years, 2010-2012, TOMSA transferred about $370K a year to the Twp for tax relief. Money saved by not paying excessive compensation to board appointees is more money for tax relief. Yes, TOMSA controls its own budget and pays its board, but they must comply with Township ordinances regarding board compensation. Thus, our Township Committee, not TOMSA, controls whether or not board appointees receive salary and benefits.

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