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2007 Budget Presentation: Finance and Management Committee – Erie County Legislature

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COMMENTS:

Chair Rebecca L. Pordum
Honorable Legislators, today, Erie County and its Public Library System stand together at a crossroads. We have been through a couple of tough years. We have suffered and struggled, but we have not succumbed, and we know that when we all work together, we can achieve our mutual mission of rendering valuable service ot the residents of Erie County. Read more.
Director Michael C. Mahaney
We learned a lot of lessons from the freak snowstorm that struck our community only two weeks ago, but for me one lesson overrides the rest: Never take anything for granted. Read more.
Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Rick Berger
The Budget & Finance Committee monitors the Librarys budget and provides policy direction to staff in preparing the Librarys annual budget request. The 2007 budget proved yet another challenging process. The base budget, as recommended by the County Executive, leaves county Library Tax support at $21.7 million. This amount, less than the library received 10 years ago, would be unchanged for a third straight year. Read more.
Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Stone
Thank you for the opportunity to provide an overview of the 2007 budget request, which are summarized on pages 3 through 12 of your Budget Overview and Issues handout (PDF). Read more.
HANDOUTS:
2007 Budget Hearing Budget Overview and Issues (PDF)
Proof of Concept: Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library (PDF)

2007 B&ECPL Budget Remarks
Finance and Management Committee, Erie County Legislature
October 30, 2006

B&ECPL Chair Rebecca L. Pordum:

Honorable Legislators, today, Erie County and its Public Library System stand together at a crossroads. We have been through a couple of tough years. We have suffered and struggled, but we have not succumbed, and we know that when we all work together, we can achieve our mutual mission of rendering valuable service to the residents of Erie County .

As you know only too well, last year, Erie County 's fiscal crisis cost the Library System one-fourth of its financial support. That loss

  • Forced the closing of 15 libraries
  • Reduced hours of service at almost every remaining location some libraries are open only 18 hours per week
  • Cost more than 225 full- and part-time Library employees their jobs, driving some hard-working talented young people with little seniority away from Western New York to seek work elsewhere
  • Took bookmobiles off the road for the first time since 1947, and
  • Decreased book, subscription and media purchases to a mere trickle.

Now, in 2006, with reduced hours, fewer staff to carry the load, curtailed programs and services and far too few new titles to satisfy the demand of library users, there is no wiggle room left.  The County Executive has proposed a 2007 Library budget that keeps funding flat for the third year in a row $7 million less than we received 2 years ago, roughly the same level of funding we received ten years ago $35 less per average $100,000 taxable property than the Library received in 2000!

We need more than the County Executive recommends, and we asked for more ? not a lot more, just enough to get back to the fundamental levels of service our constituents deserve.

A library should be open more than 18 hours a week! How can families, with both parents working long hours to make ends meet, get themselves or their kids to the library when it's open just a handful of hours three days a week? Students need regular hours after school. They need weeknights and weekends so they can complete their assignments. Many seniors, on the other hand, are more comfortable visiting the library during the late morning or early afternoons, just before the school-aged kids arrive. We must serve all of our constituencies with schedules designed to meet their specific wants and needs.

Libraries shouldn't have to beg their local governments or their patrons for extra cash just to meet New York State minimum standards when Erie County isn't providing enough revenue to keep the doors open the required number of hours. This year, some municipalities were able to supplement County revenue with local funds to maintain basic service levels, and we are extremely grateful for their aid, but many of those municipalities have indicated that they cannot continue to offset these shortfalls year after year.

There will always be a need for libraries and their friends to do independent fundraising to supplement limited public dollars, but libraries shouldn't have to hold raffles, chicken barbeques and bake sales just to cover basic operating costs or to purchase enough books to meet the demands of students, families, small business owners, homeschoolers or older adults who don't have the resources to buy their own.

You can help us resolve this situation. The solution might cost more, but not much more. For an increase of only 7 cents per month on an average $100,000 taxable property, those libraries that fail to meet New York State standards can meet them. For a little more, we can restore some desperately needed hours at several locations, increasing those 18-hour-a-week locations to 24 hours, improving weeknight and weekend hours, so more people can visit and take advantage of all the Library provides.

We have developed a four-tier restoration package, and its total cost is only 62 cents per month on an average $100,000 property in Erie County . Sixty-two cents per month! That's less than the cost of one regular cup of coffee or a candy bar!

Now, you might ask: How can we propose raising the Library Tax when so many constituents are opposed to tax increases?

We understand this is a difficult decision, so we asked your constituents that very question this past summer when we conducted an online survey to gauge public opinion to assist us in developing our 5-year plan of service. And guess what the respondents told us: 85% would be willing to pay more in taxes in order to restore some of what the Library has lost in recent years. EIGHTY-FIVE PERCENT! And, of those 85%, more than half said they would be willing to support an increase of $25 or more per year.

We're requesting only 62 cents more per month!

Last month, we asked that tax question again when we conducted a series of public meetings to get community feedback regarding our proposed 5-year plan of service, and we heard the same response. Jim from the City of Tonawanda told us his Library Tax bill is only $25 per year ? less than the retail price of one hardcover book ? and Jim assured us he'd be willing to pay a few dollars more if he knew it was going to help the Library. He would do it happily!

Honorable Legislators, the Library is the best example of regional service delivery you can find in Erie County . It has an exceptionally high rate of return on investment. For every dollar we/you invest in our library system, the rate of return is $6.62 in books, services, programs and assistance that benefit the taxpayers of Erie County . Show me another investment, public or private, that performs so well!

We don't ask for much, and we never ask for more than we need. Is 62 cents more per month too much to ask?

B&ECPL Director Michael C. Mahaney:

Thank you, Mrs. Pordum.  Honorable Legislators, good afternoon.

We learned a lot of lessons from the freak snowstorm that struck our community only two weeks ago, but for me one lesson overrides the rest: Never take anything for granted.

That storm reminded us how much we rely on heat and lights and phone service ? not to mention sump pumps and chain saws.  It will be a long time before we take those for granted again.

And what about our beautiful, tree-lined neighborhoods?  After a strong wind storm, we expect to see the occasional downed branch, but nothing could prepare us for the devastation we witnessed as limbs snapped and trunks cracked, and our curbs became barricades of brush and branches as high as our heads. Many of us took those trees for granted. Now, thousands of them are gone, and the ones that remain are sad reminders of how much this community has lost.

As we continue to clear the debris around our homes and consider how to deal with the consequences of that fateful storm, we should revisit the dramatic changes that have occurred in our Library System over the past two years, and we must agree that we cannot afford to take this institution for granted.

Last year, we made unpleasant but necessary cuts ? closing library buildings, reducing personnel, limiting book purchases and exploring new ways of doing more with less. Nevertheless, there is a limit to how deep we can cut and how many branches we can prune without doing irreparable harm to the tree.

We urge you to help us take the first steps toward restoring this Library System. As Mrs. Pordum has stated, a few cents more per month can make a genuine difference.

We want to do so much more for our patrons ? and with your help we will. Consider, for example, the success of the Frank E. Merriweather, Jr. Library, one new branch library that has, in effect, replaced three on the East Side of Buffalo.  This 20,000 square-foot facility, with its dramatic design, state-of-the-art technology and unique resources proves the adage: If you build it, they will come.  Today, this single library outperforms the three it replaced. Its circulation is higher than those three combined, and its computer use is the second highest in all of Erie County . Only the Central Library sees more public access computer activity.

All of our successes don't need to be behind us. Let's build on successes like Merriweather. Let's envision a new library system that might be a bit leaner than the old one but one that is better equipped to serve the people of Erie County in the years ahead.

And as we look toward the future, I urge you to re-enact the Library Protection Act as a permanent local law. It has served this community well for 14 years; it is time to make it permanent.

Thank you for your consideration.

B&ECPL Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Rick Berger

Thank you, Mr. Mahaney.  Honorable Legislators, good afternoon. My name is Rick Berger and I'm President of NanoDynamics a company based right here in Buffalo . I also am a Library Trustee serving as Chairperson of the Board's Budget and Finance Committee.

The Budget & Finance Committee monitors the Library's budget and provides policy direction to staff in preparing the Library's annual budget request.

The 2007 budget proved yet another challenging process. The base budget, as recommended by the County Executive , leaves county Library Tax support at $21.7 million. This amount, less than the library received 10 years ago, would be unchanged for a third straight year.

The reduced funding level, implemented during 2005's fiscal crisis, is insufficient to successfully sustain even the present downsized library operation into the future. Three libraries are presently not open enough hours per week to meet New York State minimum standards. Based upon System/County provided support, as many as 12 libraries are at risk in 2007 or beyond.

Should a library continue to fail to meet New York State minimum standards, the library's registration would eventually be revoked and the library would become ineligible to receive public funds from any source and can no longer operate as a public library.

To proactively address the situation, we request your consideration of library service restoration proposals. These proposals are grouped, starting with the most urgently needed to prevent future library closings, and progressing through a series of service restorations that will allow the downsized Buffalo and Erie County Public Library System to meet continued high public demand for service at a cost that would still be down to approximately what the taxpayers provided in 1999.

The monthly cost of the Library's restoration requests to an average $100,000 taxable value property range from 7 cents per month to allow libraries to meet minimum state standards to 22 cents per month to strengthen existing libraries in higher population centers, for example opening remaining Buffalo Branch Libraries 40 hours per week. As Ms. Pordum indicated, the monthly cost should all restoration requests be approved, would be approximately 62 CENTS, LESS THAN THE COST OF A REGULAR CUP OF COFFEE!

Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to speak with you on these important matters.

I would now like to introduce the Library's Chief Financial Officer, Ken Stone, who will provide an overview of the Library's 2007 Budget Request

B&ECPL Chief Financial Officer Ken Stone

Thank you, Mr. Berger.  Honorable Legislators, th ank you for the opportunity to provide an overview of the 2007 budget request, which are summarized on pages 3 through 12 of your Budget Overview and Issues handout :

Page 3 provides a brief outline of how we got to this point.

Since 2004, County support for the Library has been reduced by 24.5% or $7 million. $2.5 million of the reduction was in the Library Property Tax.

The rest of the 2005/2006 funding reduction resulted from a $5 million cut in the Erie County Capital Budget for library material.

The charts that follow show that County property taxpayers have seen their library property tax decline over what they paid ten years ago. Both the total Library tax levy and the rate paid per average $100,000 property are lower!

Had the Library Tax levy been allowed to grow in proportion to the growth in assessed value since last year, it would have grown $1.0 million over the $21.7 million received in 2006 without an increase in the tax rate (using figures reported in the County Executive 's proposed budget).

The chart on page 4 details the county support provided to the library from 1997 to the proposed 2007 budget. It shows the $21.7 million library tax proposed in the 2007 County Executive 's budget is less than the levy provided in 1997!

Meanwhile, the consumer price index will have increased an estimated 30% over that same period and, as the chart on page 5 shows, many items the library must purchase increased by larger amounts. Had library funding simply followed consumer prices, Erie County funding would total approximately $29.7 million in 2007.

The impact on B&ECPL staffing over the period are discussed on page 6 , with full-time personnel trends over the past thirty years charted on page 7 . Under 2007 BASE Budget County funding, full-time staffing will have DECREASED 361.5 positions and 63% from 1975 levels while Erie County 's population decreased from 1,113,491 in the 1970 census to 950,265 in the 2000 census, a 15% drop.

Of the 215 full-time positions in the 2007 base budget, 186 are in the SAP system (and shown in your budget position runs) with the remaining 29 funded through the contract line for those suburban contracting libraries not yet participating in B&ECPL's Centralized Human Resources Program.

Operating under these conditions required constant evaluation of the mix and methods of service delivery and the staffing levels required to cost-effectively provide library services. Techniques included applying technology, conducting process improvement studies, and aggressively managing turnover to evaluate and reclassify/redeploy vacated positions to meet library users' changing needs.

Unfortunately, the 24.5% reduction in county support between 2004 and 2006 placed an unprecedented strain on the Library's ability to provide quality public services. Despite the Library's ongoing efforts to downsize, streamline and innovate, additional support is needed to sustain today's smaller library system.

The charts on pages 8 and 9 place Library property tax support in context.

The County Average Annual Library Tax chart on page 8 shows, on average, a $100,000 taxable value property owner paid $89 per year for library services in 1996 decreasing to an estimated $70 per year for library services in 2007's base budget. Even if all the Library's requested restorations were approved, the amount would rise modestly to $77 per year, which a property owner could recover by checking out just 2-4 hardcover books!

The Library Property Tax share of a typical property owner's total property taxes paid is very small. The charts on page 9 compare the proportions a village property owner paid in taxes by entity in 1999 (the year before Erie County reduced its property tax) and 2006. As you can see, both the County and Library tax make up a smaller share of the property taxes paid in 2006 than in 1999. The library's share having fallen from 2.4% of total property taxes paid in 1999 to 2.1% in 2006.

The chart on page 10 , Library Restoration Requests Strong Bang for Few Bucks summarizes the Library's requested restoration proposals that, if fully implemented, would restore the Library Tax to $24.0 million. County support would still be $4.7 million LOWER than that provided in 2004 and less than provided in 1999.

As previously mentioned, the restoration requests are grouped starting with the most urgently needed to prevent future library closings, and progressing through a series of service restorations that will allow the downsized Buffalo and Erie County Public Library System to meet continued high public demand for service at a modest cost.

Examples of restorations in each grouping include:

URGENT: $252,947 and roughly 7 cents per month cost to an average $100,000 taxable property would ensure all libraries meet New York State minimum standards. Currently 12 libraries do not receive sufficient system funding to meet NY State minimum standard weekly open hours.

ESSENTIAL: $696,779 and roughly 18 cents per month cost to that same property would allow libraries remaining open to provide more effective service. For example: restoring 6 weekly open hours at two Buffalo Branches from 18 to 24 hours per week and restoring 7 hours per week at the Lake Shore Library and Anna Reinstein libraries.

BASIC: $817,819 and roughly 22 cents per month cost to an average $100,000 taxable property would further strengthen existing libraries in higher population centers, particularly those serving patrons from closed libraries. For example: restoring all eight Buffalo Branches to 40 open hours per week.

TARGETED: $549,315 and roughly 15 cents per month cost to this $100,000 taxable property would address specific problem areas or system-wide programming and service opportunities. For example: restoring some vehicle based outreach; restoring system-wide technology training; and restoring system-wide children's programming.

As mentioned previously, the monthly cost of the full restoration package to a $100,000 taxable value property, approximately 62 cents, would be less than the price of a regular cup of coffee!

Shifting gears towards the 2007 County Capital Budget, as pages 11 and 12 show, with no capital funding provided for library projects for a third straight year, the Library may lose much of an available $664,117 in state library construction grant funds.

The 2006-2007 New York State Budget contains a one-time $14 million supplement in aid for library construction. The share of funds available to the 37 public libraries in Erie County is supplemented by $664,117, with funds provided on a 50% match of eligible project components. The filing deadline is late December 2006!

As a result of its fiscal crisis, with no projects recommended for funding in the 2007 Capital Budget, the list of needed projects has grown while B&ECPL's County project pipeline is essentially dry. The lack of match funding in 2007's budget may mean that much of the $664,117 will be lost to Erie County and redirected to other libraries in the State.

Escalator Replacement and Asbestos Abatement at the Central Library is the Library's top priority project (page 11) . The Central Library is the only County owned facility (other libraries are owned by their respective municipality or, in the case of the Alden, Boston, and Marilla Free libraries, by the library association members). This project was previously included in the 2004 Adopted Capital budget at a cost of $1.6 million. However, the bonds were never issued and the project was cancelled during the 2005 fiscal crisis. As conditions have deteriorated further and construction costs have increased, County Public Works staff estimates 2007 costs at $2,000,000. Delay will further increase costs above inflation as conditions deteriorate. If it was added to the 2007 Capital Budget, this project would qualify for up to +/- $400,000 in aid depending upon the number and amounts requested by other libraries.

Central Library Fuel Tank, Mechanical Equipment and Exterior Renovation is the Library's next priority project. At an estimated cost of $650,000 this project, if added to the 2007 Capital Budget, would likely qualify for up to +/- $225,000 in state aid. As you can see from the photographs on page 12 , the condition of the sidewalks and parking area are significantly deteriorated. The fuel tank provides dual fuel heating capability (#6 heavy fuel oil and natural gas) allowing the library to meet both emergency situations and use the most cost-effective source of heating at any given time.

The remaining pages in this handout provide additional detail on the Library's 2007 Budget Request, including:

Hours of Service by Community ( Pages 14 and 15 )

Restoration Request Detail by Category and Library ( Pages 16-23 ); and

Revenue and Expense Listing - "Form 4" (Pages 24 31 ).

Of course, additional explanations, charts and graphs are also available on the Library's website at www1.buffalolib.org

Finally, on a celebratory note, I call your attention to the single page in your packet titled Proof of Concept: Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library

As Mr. Mahaney mentioned, this library, which opened April 1, 2006 on the City's East Side at Jefferson and Utica , directly replaced the aging N. Jefferson Branch. Additionally, due to Erie County budget cutbacks, Merriweather provides service to patrons who used the former Kensington and Fronczak Branches that closed in late 2005.

The new, bigger, more capable library has been extremely well received by the community. In September 2006, the library circulated MORE than the three former libraries COMBINED did in September 2005.

Since opening, computer use has grown dramatically each month. September use was HIGHER than the combined use of the three replaced libraries in 2005 and Merriweather is now the second busiest library for computer use in the entire B&ECPL (after the Central Library).

The Merriweather Library experience validates the continuing relevance, importance and demand for public library service in our community!

Thank you for your interest and support. Chairperson Pordum, Budget and Finance Committee Chairperson Berger, Director Mahaney and I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.