Schenectady County

County woes worry library staff

The county’s fiscal problems have the 130 employees of the Schenectady County Public Library System

The county’s fiscal problems have the 130 employees of the Schenectady County Public Library System worried about their jobs and the system’s future.

Members of the system’s staff, who belong to the Civil Service Employees Association, are now attending meetings of both the county Legislature and the library Board of Trustees.

Spokesman Ken Wagner said a representative is attending each meeting to stay informed. “We are worried about the county’s fiscal concerns and their impact on the library,” he said.

County Legislator Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, chairman of the county Legislature’s Library Committee, said library staff “have every right to be close to the process, just as all of our county employees have a right to all county processes.”

He added, “There is no reason for them to be more concerned about the county budget [than] any other county employee should be.”

County officials are anticipating a budget deficit of at least $8 million and maybe as high as $16 million as they plan for 2009. County Manager Kathleen Rooney has directed all departments to submit proposed budgets with 3 percent reductions. The county also is not filling positions and taking other actions to close the gap.

The library system is wholly dependent on the county for funding, although it does receive some fiscal support from trustees and the Friends of the Library. The library’s budget this year is approximately $5.6 million.

The county considers the library an essential but non-mandated service to residents. This means the county is not required to support fully the operations of the 11-branch library system. Education law says municipalities with 10,000 or more people must support a library, although the meaning of support is vague, said Carol Clingan, executive director of the Mohawk Valley Library System. Schenectady’s is the largest in the system and serves as a central library for libraries in Fulton, Montgomery, Schoharie and Schenectady counties, she said.

“Schenectady County’s library system is unique. It is the only one in the state that has pure funding from a county. Most others get funding from other ways. Some are a combination of county funding and other sources, some are nonprofits and some have their own taxing jurisdictions,” Clingan said.

jobs unfilled

Wagner said the county has already put a fiscal squeeze on the library system. “It is ongoing, because we are not a mandated service. There is a real concern about the future of the library,” he said.

Wagner said the county is leaving positions vacant and the library system’s proposed budget for 2009 shows little growth beyond an increase to purchase materials. “The county is looking to cut back further,” he said. “There are three librarian positions that have been unfilled for some time, and they haven’t filled the positions of student pages.”

In addition, Wagner said, library staff members are concerned by a proposal from the library trustees to break away from the county. Trustees in May created an ad hoc governance committee to explore the creation of a library district with taxing authority. John Karl is chairing the committee and is researching the concept, which, he said, is years from becoming reality.

Trustees established the committee following controversy over a proposal to remodel and expand the main library branch on Clinton Street. The county abruptly dropped the proposal after spending at least $500,000 on design work and upon learning the project would require closing the branch for at least a year.

Trustees are now developing their own plan to remodel the library, which will involve minor closures.

Wagner said the self-governance proposal especially “waves a red flag for us. We would have to see how that plays out. One would think things would be more expensive under this system.” He added staff was caught by surprise by the closure announcement.

For instance, Clingan said, the county provides service to the system, such as snow plowing, that do not show up in the library’s overall budget. Still, she said, a library taxing jurisdiction is feasible for Schenectady County. “It is really pure democracy. They are asking the public to support the library at this level and to elect people to run it,” she said. Under this proposal, an elected board of trustees would govern the system, whereas it now serves in an advisory capacity.

Legislator Vincent DiCerbo, D-Schenectady, former chairman of the county Legislature’s Library Committee, said he is opposed to the library spinning off from the county. “That is unacceptable; it is creating another layer of government. And it is still going to cost taxpayers’ money and there is no guarantee the library will receive unlimited money by becoming independent,” he said.

The library system is facing the same fiscal pressures as are other county departments, DiCerbo said. “Everybody has to sacrifice,” he said.

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