By TALIA WIENER
wiener@montclairlocal.news

Montclair Public Library will reopen its Bellevue Avenue branch for limited hours on Tuesday — the first time the branch will be open at all since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

A month ago, the Township Council agreed to boost library funding by $100,000 compared to the levels originally planned for this year’s municipal budget — though still to levels far below pre-pandemic funding. Mayor Sean Spiller said at the time that was contingent on getting the Bellvue branch back open

The branch will be open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and additional hours will be added in the coming weeks, according to the library’s website

Staff and customers will be required to wear masks and observe 6 feet of physical distance while inside the library’s buildings, a decision the website said is made “out of respect for our younger patrons who are not yet vaccinated and are required to continue to follow these guidelines.”

There will be contactless service offered for patrons who are unable or unwilling to comply with the safety measures set by the library, the website said. 

Montclair Public Library was closed for almost seven months during the coronavirus pandemic, until some in-person services resumed in October at the main branch on South Fullerton Avenue. At the main branch, browsing remains restricted to the first floor, and computers are still off-limits. 

The library saw big budget cuts during the pandemic with originally planned funding for 2020 of about $3.5 million cut back to the lowest amount the library has seen in two decades — $2,983,990. Employees had been furloughed for 27 weeks in 2020 before 21 staffers were let go in October.

This year, the Township Council originally proposed a budget that held funding virtually even with 2020 — exactly $3 million. But the council ultimately agreed to an additional $100,000 as long as the Bellevue branch re-opened “as soon as possible,” said Spiller at a May 4 Township council meeting. 

Under the state’s “third of a mil” funding formula, Montclair is required to provide the library with at least $33 for every $100,000 of assessed property value — which in 2021 amounts to $2,680,152. That’s $51,383 higher than in 2020. The remainder of the funding is at the Township Council’s discretion.

Library officials last month said they would review the plan, to determine what level of services they might be able to restore. 

In a letter submitted to Montclair Local in February, chair of the Montclair Public Library Foundation Irena Goldstein said the reduced funding in 2020 had been “the bare minimum required to keep the lights on in the South Fullerton branch on a Monday to Friday reduced-service basis.”