Montclair library trustees: Here’s how we could reopen Bellevue branch
By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
The Montclair Library’s trustees are asking the Township Council for funds they say could reopen the Bellevue branch.
But services would still be significantly scaled back from pre-pandemic levels, library Director Peter Coyl said.
Early this month, the Township Council proposed a budget that would allocate exactly $3 million for the library — about $2.7 million required under a state formula, and the rest at the council’s discretion. It’s about $500,000 less than Coyl had said in February the library was working with in a temporary budget, and at the time, he hoped to see more.
It’s also virtually even with the levels the library ultimately saw in 2020, after the council cut about $500,000 from a previously approved budget once the coronavirus pandemic took hold. The library was closed for nearly seven months, and while the main branch on South Fullerton Avenue reopened, the Bellevue branch never did. Employees had been furloughed for 27 weeks in 2020 before 21 staffers were let go.
Under the version the council proposed, the library could hold onto its 21 full-time and five part-time employees, the trustees said. They could continue to keep the main branch open 35 hours a week — four weekdays, and for part of one weekend day. Before the pandemic, the library was open seven days a week.
Now, the trustees are asking for an additional $128,000 they say would get the Bellevue branch back open 18 hours a week — including one evening and half a day on Saturdays. They could add another 24 hours at the main library, allowing for three evenings and more weekend service starting in July, they said.
The funds would retain a full-time and two part-time Adult School staffers currently being paid out of that program’s own budget; Coyl said it’s an open question how long the library could continue to do so under the current arrangement.
The library could also hire five more part-time librarians and three part-time library assistants, and give staffers cost of living adjustments, the trustees said.
Township Manager Tim Stafford and members of the council’s finance committee haven’t yet returned a message from Montclair Local seeking comment on whether the additional funds would be considered.
Coyl said library representatives had presented the township with three funding scenarios, and the $3 million currently proposed sits between the lowest and mid-range plans. The request for another $128,000 represents a pro-rated version of the mid-range plan, since the year is already underway, he said.
It doesn’t restore all-day Saturday or half-day Sunday service the library had before the pandemic, or open Bellevue the five days a week it had previously been scheduled. It also doesn’t fund and weekend programming, such as storytimes for children, “but there would be staff in the building,” Coyl said.
The municipal budget under consideration would result in a 2.48% increase in the municipal portion of a property owner’s tax bill — the first increase in three years. It will next be discussed at a public hearing May 4.
Coyl said Tuesday he hadn’t yet heard any reply from Township Council members or the manager, other than an acknowledgement the proposal had been received.
“In my mind, it’s a starting point for a discussion,” he said.
Coyl said he’s also hopeful if Montclair gets anticipated funds from the federal American Rescue Plan, some could be used to support the library.
An earlier version of this story misstated the difference between the proposed budget and an earlier temporary budget. This story has also been updated to be clearer about which programs would still not be funded if the trustees' request were granted.