WEST ORANGE, NJ — After weeks of calling for the township to supply additional funding to no avail, the West Orange Public Library Board of Trustees unanimously approved a $2,200,096 budget featuring $83,000 in cuts to its materials and supplies budget as well as the layoffs of two part-time employees during its April 26 meeting.
The materials cuts include reducing the book budget from $166,000 in 2015 to $116,000 in 2016 and decreasing the audio/visual budget from last year’s $20,000 to this year’s $4,000. According to board Chairwoman Sheri Prupis, those cuts are tempered by the fact that the WOPL belongs to the Bergen County Cooperative Library System, an entity that allows members of participating libraries to check out millions of items from more than 70 libraries throughout Northern New Jersey, so they will still be able to access books or DVDs that the West Orange library might not be able to afford. Though this option is better than nothing, Prupis acknowledged that not having the money to ensure the library has as many items on its shelves as possible is a detriment to patrons.
“Cutting the books and the audio/visual (budgets) is absolutely hurtful,” Prupis told the West Orange Chronicle in a May 2 phone interview. “When I walk into the library, I want to get my book. I don’t want to put in a request and wait several days for the book to come.”
Meanwhile, the staff reductions could have actually been worse — originally, Prupis said the library was facing the possibility of laying off all its part-time employees plus one full-timer. That changed when the township agreed to bond for some of the WOPL’s needed capital improvement projects, which freed up the $149,915 in operating reserves to cover some of the employees’ salaries. If the town had not stepped in, she said those funds would have gone toward making HVAC repairs.
But even with that reprieve, the library’s financial situation is still tight. Prupis said that if the entire $149,915 is spent, the WOPL’s operating reserves would be totally depleted, leaving only about $349,000 in capital reserves.
Additionally, Prupis said the layoffs will leave the library understaffed, which means operating hours could be cut. However, the chairwoman said a decision has not yet been made on that front. If hours do have to be eliminated, she said the days affected would depend on when the library was using its part-time staff.
Library Director David Cubie agreed that having to let staff go definitely hurts the library, making it less versatile since it will have fewer part-timers to fill in for full-time employees who go on vacation or have to take a sick day. Considering that the WOPL has already reduced its workforce by 31 percent in the past six years and has fewer full-time workers than other libraries of comparable size, Cubie said the layoffs will simply make a tough situation worse.
“We really rely upon these part-timers to give the library the flexibility to function,” Cubie told the Chronicle in an April 28 phone interview, adding that the two employees in question were really “hardworking, energetic contributors.”
“It allows the library to function in a way that it wouldn’t without them,” he added.
Another major cut included in the library budget was a reduction in the funds dedicated to programming, decreasing from $10,000 in 2015 to $3,514 in 2016. But Cubie said the $3,462 donated to the WOPL in the wake of the West Orange Women’s Club closing will help to remedy some of that loss.
Overall, Prupis said she is concerned about the library’s future if the township continues to deny additional funding as the WOPL is already operating on a limited number of hours and is starting to depend on BCCLS to supplement its materials.
“Potentially, we would be in a downward spiral,” Prupis said, adding that the WOPL will need $208,000 to cover operating expenses next year, so additional funding will be essential. “If somebody wants to get a book at nine in the morning, our library doesn’t open to the public until 10. So maybe you’ll go to Caldwell or Montclair or Livingston or a different BCCLS library, and that will impact our library.
“That’s not supporting our patrons,” she continued. “That’s not what our patrons want.”
Prupis said it would have been ideal if the township could have contributed at least $50,000 to save the two part-time employees’ jobs, though she was informed before the Township Council voted on its final budget that the library would not be receiving any additional funding. The council’s May 3 vote occurred after press time.
Mayor Robert Parisi said throughout the budget process that, while he would have loved to supply additional monies to the WOPL, the fact that the township was facing a $4.5 million deficit as a result of increased health care costs prevented him from doing so.
“The township does not have the money to fund every program at the level we’d like to,” Parisi previously told the Chronicle. “It’s as simple as that. If the library wants more money, that means less money for police, less money for fire, less money for recreation. I understand the frustration, but it’s a real simple math equation — we only have so much money to go around.”
Without additional funding from the township, the WOPL is hoping to obtain new sources of revenue through the revival of the West Orange Library Foundation, which hopes to attract large donations for major projects, such as the creation of a basement room, and the creation of a Friends of the Library organization, which is more of a grassroots movement to garner smaller donations for items including books and furniture. In a May 2 email to the Chronicle, Friends President Gerald Sweeney said his law firm was able to reinstate the foundation’s 501(c)3 tax exempt status, while the Friends organization will file for its own tax exempt status next week.
During the April 26 meeting, Sweeney told the trustees that the foundation will next have to find people to join. He said the Friends have already accumulated a number of trustees as well as officers, including Marge Mingin as vice president, Councilman Joe Krakoviak as treasurer and Robin Rockman as secretary. And the president said it will soon begin fundraising at the June 4 Slide the City event, with plans to sell refreshments, hold book sales and conduct a 50/50 raffle.
Prupis also informed the board that the township has committed to funding the first year in the WOPL’s five-year, $1.5 million capital improvements plan — including the replacement of the facade that collapsed in January 2015. She said the town will pay for the first year, the bulk of the total amount, before deciding whether to cover additional years. She added that the township requested that the library ask Arcari and Iovino Architects, the firm that wrote the plan, to provide a prioritized list of first-year projects noting which ones can be bundled. And though the township will not entertain any more design suggestions from the library, she said it did promise to include the architects on its list of preferred vendors when it comes time to start the projects.
Photos by Sean Quinn