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Library Board May Shut The Book On 3 Library Branches

On Wednesday, trustees may choose to solve its financial problems with a vote to close the Lincroft, Bayshore and Navesink branches.

To the dismay of some loyal patrons, the Lincroft, Navesink and Bayshore branches of the Middletown Township Library system could be shuttered by an official vote next week.

A letter issued by Library Director Susan O'Neal was posted in the branches yesterday. It said, "Pending final approval of the Trustees of the Library, we regretfully announce that all branch libraries are scheduled to be closed to the public on Friday, January 25, 2013, at 5:00 pm. This action is necessary due to major budgetary constraints. Discussions with local community groups and schools will continue to pursue ideas and possibilities for some type of neighborhood library services in the future."

A patron working on an online job application at the Bayshore branch in Port Monmouth yesterday afternoon was startled to learn this news. "This is the only library I come to," said Tai'Rell Billingsley, who lives five minutes away in the neighborhood. "My sisters come here every day, to read books." 

Middletown Township's main library is on New Monmouth Road -- a modern, vibrant, spacious facility with several wings and meeting rooms, stacks of books, lots of computers, special interest programs, rows of video games and movies, a teen center and a cozy fireplace area with plush couches and reading nooks.

The MTPL's three satellite locations are housed in much smaller, older buildings. They are used, but their combined circulation accounts for just 11% of the system's total circulation.

Closing these branches would save the MTPL "roughly $300,000 annually," said Library Board President Lawrence Nelsen, after factoring in things like the cost of salaries and benefits, publications and utilities. If the branches are closed, some workers would be transferred to the main library.

The township library system's funding is tied to assessed valuation of properties, and the downturn in the real estate market and rising of tax appeals makes for a gloomy forecast, Nelsen said.   

The board's Financial Committee weighed reducing expenses and increasing fees, but could not identify significant savings in order to close a gap in the 2013 budget, Nelsen said.

"We have a very serious financial problem, and the closing of the branches really is the only way we are able to overcome that problem," he said. "As much as we don’t want to, from a financial standpoint we really don’t have any alternative," he said. 

The library branches are appreciated as local landmarks, a place to be recognized by neighbors, to explore interests, make copies or to search for a job online.

"There isn't a single place to go to sit down and hang out, without having to buy something, unless you go to the parks" said Janice Melillo, who brought a toddler to storytime at Lincroft last week. 

Her 12-year old daughter Riana Melillo is planning to present a "save the Lincroft Library" petition at the public meeting Jan. 16.  "Now we have to go to the main library, which is 20 minutes away from were we are now," she said. "In the summertime, when we don’t have the school library to go to for our summer reading, we're not going to go all the way there."

The board president welcomes any suggestions. "If anyone can come up with a couple of hundred thousand dollars on an annual basis, we'd be happy to hear about it. We cannot support those three branches in a continual basis. The library, like most government agencies these days, is in a financial fix, quite honestly."

The MTPL cannot sell the library structures or land for money, as it does not own the property. The Lincroft Library is owned by the Board of Education, and has been on loan since the 1900s. The township owns the Bayshore Branch library. And the Navesink Branch Library is owned by a foundation, which the MTPL pays $1 a year for its use. 

Naomi Carter January 16, 2013 at 04:00 AM
The word is that Anthony Mercantante has concocted a plan to use those closed library buildings after all. Since his college buddy is using the Croydon Hall campus for the all-girls school which caused the board of health and other Middletown entities to use trailers (which by the way, cost more to rent than the rent they're getting from those renting Croydon Hall for the school). He plans to use those closed libraries to house the Middletown Twp stuff. However, the Navesink branch belongs to a Middletown family and the DEED specifies that the building may be used only for a library and should it cease to be a library, the building reverts back to the original owner. Shady dealings once again by our township committee, much like that landlocked property the township bought that was owned by Sharfy years ago. As useless to us taxpayers as "tits on a bull."
KB January 16, 2013 at 04:19 AM
Yes Naomi, it all makes sense. This is always the way the people's business has been conducted in Middletown. Someone's buddy or brother profits at the expense of taxpayers, and it is publicized as a WIN/WIN scenario by the committee members. What a shame someone's brother doesn't have a business that would profit from helping the libraries stay open- then our local politicians would find it of the utmost importance to not only keep the local branches open, but build a few new ones!
Legion January 16, 2013 at 12:30 PM
Naomi, I would love to see some, you know, proof, of your wild assertions. Who went to school with whom? Where? Do you have any facts? Last I heard, the lease with Trinity HS was still being negotiated, so how do you know how much the school is paying per month - is that public information somewhere or are you just making stuff up? And as far as utilizing buildings that the town owns, would you rather have the town pay for modular office space or use a building that the Library no longer intends on using? It seems to me that spending less and making use of available space is actually good administration, no? It's kind of fun to make things up on the internet, isn't it?
Legion January 16, 2013 at 12:36 PM
Oh, and ASimon: You need to get the story straight. Is it "supporting the Library" or is it "waste?" Please note that in recent years the Administrator and the CFO have changed in Middletown, and now we are seeing tighter administration, innovation and saving tax dollars. That's not a coincidence. Unfortunately being a township committee member is a part time job in Middletown, so they need to rely on the professional staff most of the time. They apparently have hired good staff these past 4-5 years and there are changes being made. I think it's progress, you don't. You have the right to your opinion, of course, but looking at the results of the elections the last few years, it appears that you are a part of a VERY small minority.
Karen Edmond January 28, 2013 at 03:14 PM
Rick speaks the truth. But I appreciate your opinion Commonman.

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