Montclair Public Library hopes for better budget situation in 2021
By ERIN ROLL
The Montclair Public Library had a difficult financial year in 2020, with its budget $530,000 less than what it had hoped for, according to library data.
But the library hopes that 2021 will bring an increased budget, and with it, staff and services back at full capacity.
“The impact on staffing and programs is unavoidable, but we are confident the library will continue to serve Montclair residents well,” library Director Peter Coyl said in a statement provided to Montclair Local. “With vaccine distribution in sight, we hope for a return to full funding next year, and a return to the exceptional library service Montclair residents have come to – and should – expect.”
The funding figures will not be known until the township adopts its budget this winter.
The library hopes for $3.7 million in total from the township in 2021, Coyl said. This includes the third-of-a-mill funding required by state law – roughly $2.6 million in Montclair’s case – plus $1.1 million in additional funding.
For 2020, the library had requested $3.5 million in total, but the township was forced to decrease this by $500,000 due to revenue shortfalls. The library received its statutory third-of-a-mill funding, but its requested $887,141 in additional township funding was cut to $355,221.
With increased funding, the library might be able to return to seven-days-a-week service, reopen the Bellevue Avenue branch and increase staffing.
In October, each township department has to present its budget proposal for the coming year to the finance department, ahead of the budgeting process in the winter.
The library is expected to receive its first-quarter budget in January.
Coyl said the library was hopeful funding would increase as the township began to recover revenue lost during the pandemic.
The library had to eliminate 21 part-time staff positions due to the financial constraints, and was forced to close in March as the pandemic began. The main library on South Fullerton Avenue reopened with limited services in October, but the Bellevue Avenue branch remains closed.
Many of the staff were furloughed due to the closure, but returned to work once the library reopened.
The library receives at least $2,628,769 in local funding, by law. The funding formula for libraries in New Jersey is one-third of a mill: one-third of a tenth of a cent for every dollar of assessed property in the municipality. Municipalities may award additional funding to libraries, at their discretion.
At the Dec. 15 council meeting, Montclair resident Edward Robbins, speaking on behalf of the Friends of the Library, said it was imperative that the council provide full funding to the library at pre-pandemic levels. He said that the library provided a vital service to residents who needed internet access or assistance finding jobs.
Mayor Sean Spiller said the township has had specific conversations with the library, asking what funding it needed to remain functional and be able to provide services.
“And we made sure that we provided those dollars, and I know it is our intention, as has been for the previous council, to support the library to the greatest possible extent that we can,” Spiller said. “We’ve always been strong supporters, and we’ll always continue to be.”
Deputy Mayor Bill Hurlock disputed and criticized statements that the library would not be fully funded, saying at the Dec. 15 meeting that the library had received the full requested amount.
“Nothing can be further from the truth,” Hurlock said. “We have asked what the ask was, and we have met that ask.” He said the Bellevue Avenue branch will not close, and the library will not see massive cuts.
A letter signed by the Montclair Public Library Foundation, the Montclair Library Friends Steering Committee, IMANI, Succeed2gether and Watchung Booksellers urged residents to ask the council to support the budget.
“During periods of economic hardship, communities turn to, and depend on, their libraries and librarians. In these tough times the Montclair Public Library offers everyone free and equal access to a wealth of vital resources, including computer/internet technology, job search tools and continuing education opportunities,” the letter stated.