In G’town, growing library seeks voter support

GERMANTOWN—The Germantown Library will come before the public on the November 3 General Election ballot to ask for more money.

Currently the library receives $58,000 annually through taxes raised in the town. This translates into about $29 per year on a house assessed at $100,000.

The library is requesting an annual increase of $30,000, which would result in a tax of $45 per year. The library calculates that the increase works out to less than a dollar a week for a house assessed at $100,000.

Katherine Overington, president of the library’s Board of Trustees, reviewed these figures at this week’s Town Board meeting. The board has no control over the increase, as Supervisor Joel Craig explained. If the voters approve the increase, “it just goes through our budget,” he said. “We collect the taxes and pass through the money.”

Increases for the library are not automatic and must be approved by the library at a general election.

Ms. Overington took the board meeting as an opportunity to start the public campaign for the increase, explaining to the board and some 30 people attending what a “Chapter 414 proposal” is. Chapter 414 of the state laws of 1995 amended Education Law to provide public libraries with the ability to place a funding proposition on a municipal ballot.

Library supporters carried petitions to put the proposed increase onto the Germantown ballot, and they got enough signatures—at least 10% of the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election. The Columbia County Board of Elections signed off on the petitions and the proposal is on the ballot.

The increase is needed, said Ms. Overington, because the current “guaranteed income,” through property taxes, covers only 50% of the library’s expenses. The rest comes from grants and donations, which are not guaranteed.

The library plans two open houses so that voters can see the building at 31 Palatine Park Road and discuss the funding: Sunday, October 18 from 3 to 5 p.m. and Sunday, November 1 from 3 to 5 p.m.

Members of the Germantown Garden Club founded the library in 1948. It was first housed in the Town Hall on Main Street, across from what is now the post office. Volunteers ran the library until 1950, when the first professional librarian was hired, for an annual salary of $100.

In 1980, the library moved to the new Town Hall on Palatine Park Road. But within 10 years one room was not enough, so the library doubled the number of its rooms by renting space on Palatine Park Road. Voters passed the first—and only—414 ballot proposition for the library in 2005.

The current library opened in 2008. The law governing Chapter 414 proposals do not allow for bonding of capital projects. The library purchased the land with a bequest and built on it with separate fund-raising and the help of volunteers, who, for example, cleared the land, built bookcases and moved the books.

With the new building, the library added staff, increased its hours and is now a Wi-Fi hotspot. Since 2008 the library has seen a 59% increase in cardholders and a 32% increase in visits. Public-access computers have gone from one to nine. Adult programs increased from 0 to 237.

Guaranteed funding did not increase; the library made do by “pinching pennies,” said Ms. Overington, and with the help of volunteers. The library got grants for computers: $14,000 for hardware and $18,000 for software, and a volunteer—Devon, the son of Ms. Overington and her husband, Martin—does network maintenance.

At the same time, costs have gone up: for the building, utilities, books, media and technology. It is no longer possible to staff the library with volunteers. “Core functions require trained staff,” said Ms. Overington. Further, there are confidentiality concerns—“people don’t want just anyone knowing what they’re borrowing—” and accountability is a factor. Volunteers still work in the library, but they are paired with trained staff.

Councilman Donald Westmore is also a library trustee. “It’s unusual for a library to go for 10 years without asking for an increase,” he said. “This group has really worked hard to make the library work and grow.”

In other business:

  • The board approved the purchase of a Bobcat Skid Steer Loader for $38,000, the state bid price. The money will come from the Highway Department’s reserve fund of $60,000
  • Police Commissioner Roger Rekow and Mr. Westmore reported that only one person had been seen camping illegally at Cheviot Landing since last month’s meeting. In contrast, the Police Department gave out 30 warning parking tickets. “We gently tell them not to park in people’s driveways, or the middle of the street,” said Mr. Rekow. “They’re getting better”
  • Mary Beth Bianconi of Delaware Engineering reported that on or about October 1, the state should publish a list of infrastructure projects that could be funded next year. If Germantown is listed and decides to go ahead with its sewer plant renovation, the funding application is due March 1.”That would provide financing like a bridge loan,” said Ms. Bianconi. “It allows you to conduct design, put the project out to bid and close on long-term financing”
  • Lindsay Ostrander of Delaware Engineering reported that the town should have responses to three funding applications by the end of this year: the planning grant for the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program; Hudson River Improvement Fund, for a accessible dock at Lasher Memorial Park; and Hudson River Valley Greenway, for a planning grant to help update the town’s Comprehensive Plan
  • Town budget workshops take place October 7, 12 and 21, at 7 p.m. in Town Hall. The Public Hearing on the 2016 budget is Monday, October 26 at 6:30 p.m., prior to the Town Board meeting
  • Historian Susan Raab announced that the annual Palatine Heritage Days are Tuesday and Wednesday, October 6 and 7. There will be four presenters, two at the school and two at the parsonage. Barry Keegan will construct a wigwam at the school. Caelie Buttler, a Bard College student intern who did extensive research on her own collection of about 50 buttons, will talk to students at the Parsonage. Linda Richards will make music with the students, who will have made clay buttons with their art teacher, Mike DelPozzo.

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