Orange Council cuts $500K from library, which might have to close by October

ORANGE, NJ — Orange City Council cut the funding request for the Orange Public Library in Mayor Dwayne Warren’s Calendar Year 2018 proposed budget from $1.2 million to $700,000, even though members of the governing body said they believe the city’s historic landmark institution will only have enough funding to stay open to the public until the end of October.

“There was a big discussion about library and what we should do,” said at large Councilwoman Donna K. Williams on Thursday, July 12, after the end of the work session in Council Chambers. “They were asking for $1.2 million, but we only approved $700,000, and that probably means they will only have enough money to stay open until October. Nobody wants to hurt the library or the members of the community that use it and need it or the employees that work there.”

Attempts to obtain a comment from current Orange Library Board of Trustees President Esney Sharpe about the council’s decision to cut the library’s funding request were unsuccessful by press time this week.

Although the Orange Public Library is a separate entity from Orange Township and fully autonomous, it gets some of its annual funding from the city and the mayor appoints its board of trustees. The Warren administration did take over the library’s payroll and some other operating functions from 2012 to 2016, the same period of time the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating for allegations of wire fraud and other crimes.

Warren also appointed Tyshammie Cooper, his former chief of staff and acting business administrator, to serve as proxy on the library’s board of trustees. Cooper is currently the East Orange 4th Ward councilwoman and a candidate for a seat on the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

The Orange Public Library also has an investment board that manages the endowments bequeathed to the historic local institution by James O. Watson in 1892; this board is separate from the board of trustees. Attempts to get a comment from a member of the library’s investment board were unsuccessful this week.

West Ward Councilman Harold Johnson explained Monday, July 16, why the council had decided not to provide the library’s requested funding.

“First, regardless what the library asks for, we, the governing body, have to comply to the statutory minimums. The four years I’ve been on the council, we have always allocated above that amount.”

But, Johnson said, this year, things are different, due to a $7.1 million deficit in the city budget.

“With that said, the taxpayers in Orange pay about $185K in benefits for library employees and we’ve allocated another $756K for salaries and operations,” said Johnson. “And that adds up to over $900,000, right? The mayor appoints all of the trustees and, collectively, they have not raised the additional sums of money that the library needs. The taxpayers of Orange have always contributed their fair share.”

City officials in the Warren administration were also unavailable for comment by press time this week.