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September 22, 2018

Fulton Library Cuts Hours, Staff As Budget Tightens


<p>One library patron works with a library employee while another patron searches the library's catalog on a computer.</p>

One library patron works with a library employee while another patron searches the library's catalog on a computer.

It wasn’t an idle threat.

An official of the Fulton Public Library came to last week’s public hearing of the Fulton Common Council to warn that without an increase in its budget, the library would have to cut hours and lay off a worker.

Aldermen approved the budget without changes, leaving its contribution to the library at the same level as in the last budget. They did not mention the library’s request nor respond to the official, beyond thanking her for her comment.

Thursday, the library’s board of trustees voted to cut its hours and lay off one member of the staff.

Hours at the main branch will be cut from 54 per week to 42. The Vayner branch library will be cut from 15 hours per week to 12.

“We have received flat city funding for the last three years,” Marian Stanton, president of the board of trustees said in a statement, “but this year we can’t make those dollars go any further. These cut-backs, however much we resist making them, are now unavoidable. Mayor Woodward and the council members said they were unable to provide us with an additional $20,000 in funding.”

The main branch will no longer be open on Saturdays. It will be open from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm on Wednesdays. The Vayner branch will be open from 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm Tuesdays through Fridays.

As we’ve documented previously, the library is riding a wave of growth. Stanton said the library’s public computers are in use as much as 90% of the time. The number of registered borrowers has quadrupled since 2002, to more than 10,000, circulation is up 8% per year over the same period and books borrowed from other member libraries using the free inter-library loan system havedoubled since 2003.

The library this summer broke ground for the construction of an elevator to allow easy access to all four floors of the historic building.

Stanton noted that it was not possible to ask employees to take pay cuts because they make between $8 and $11 per hour. She said the library will look for grants that could help reverse the cutbacks.

Prior coverage:

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7 Responses “Fulton Library Cuts Hours, Staff As Budget Tightens”

  1. Susan
    December 21, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Wow-so those of us taxpayers who work Wednesday’s until 8 pm and the
    entire rest of the week won’t be able to use the library anymore? Nice…..
    Add it to the list of reasons I can’t wait to sell my house and move out of
    a community that can’t even support a basic library.

  2. Donna
    December 21, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    A couple of questions – if it was a budget hearing – isn’t that when things are discussed? How come there was no discussion on this subject after the library official spoke? In a different news article – the mayor said and I quote “You just have to learn to say no” – how come he didn’t say no to his raise then? Has anyone really looked at the city budget and the increases in it for different departments? I am very sorry that the library has to cut hours, but I understand. They are a great group of people that work there.

  3. Dave Bullard
    December 21, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Donna:

    A public hearing is generally intended to give the public a chance to offer input. Most of the time, in most of the places that I have been, public hearings do not turn into two-way discussions. The public speaks; legislators listen and say only “thank you”. Fulton’s Common Council meetings tend to be a little less formal, so there will occasionally be some back-and-forth. Sometimes, a lot of it, and that meeting was a good example of that. One resident who had taken the time to get a copy of the budget held the floor for half an hour, having a detailed discussion with the Aldermen and Mayor on specific line items.

    But the public hearing is a formality, a legal requirement that must be met before the budget can be approved. Sometimes, the hearing is held a period of time before the budget is approved; sometimes, it’s held on the same night.

    Much of the budget is worked out behind the scenes; the numbers will become public at some point before adoption and some department numbers will be discussed at an open meeting (like the recent budget workshop), but I have never seen a line-by-line review of a city budget at a public meeting and it is very rare for anything said at a public hearing to influence the vote that is scheduled for the very same night as legislators have already figured out what they want in it and out of it.

    Generally, citizens who want to influence public policy need to be involved well before the public hearing. At the public hearing, it’s generally too late.

    I hope this helps,
    Dave Bullard/Managing Editor

  4. Donna
    December 21, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Thanks Dave. I still wonder about the raises that some of the departments got. I know things don’t look good for 2011, that’s all we have heard, but wouldn’t the community be happier if no raises were accepted? Aren’t we all in this together?

    Thank you again for answering my questions.

  5. Dave Bullard
    December 22, 2009 at 7:59 am

    Donna, you’d have to ask the Aldermen directly for that answer, but here’s what they said at the meeting (please don’t shoot the messenger; I’m a taxpayer, too):

    City Clerk/Chamberlain Jim Laboda got a $5,000 raise because his job as Chamberlain (the guy who oversees the city’s finances) was combined with the job of City Clerk when the last clerk retired. He was offered $10,000 to take on the second job, which still would have saved the city about $60,000 in pay and benefits. He refused the $10,000 and said $5,000 would be sufficient. In truth, Jim has three jobs. The city doesn’t have someone overseeing information technology and he’s taken on that role as well. He is said to be in the office on Saturdays and Sundays.

    As for the Mayor’s raise, that was done by the Aldermen. They said it was in recognition of the tremendous amount of time they say he puts in, for what is said to be a part-time job. It has been recent practice to have a full-time city administrator working under the part-time Mayor to make sure there’s full-time coverage. Otherwise, you have a $15 million corporation being run by a part-timer who often has to have another job in order to pay the bills at home. But Ron Woodward is retired, works a more than full-time schedule as Mayor and left vacant the city administrator job.

    Those are the justifications given for the two administrative raises.

    As for the union workforce, Aldermen said they’ve asked unions in the past to delay raises that had been previously negotiated and the answer has always been no. The argument from the union side traditionally has been that if they give up what they negotiated for this year, they’ll be giving it up nearly every year because every year is a “crisis” of some sort.

    The big issue isn’t pay increases — it’s overtime. The fire department alone spends nearly $1000 every day of the year on overtime pay ($330,000 budgeted for 2010) and the police department spends a little more than $1000 per day ($371,000 for 2010). There’s mandatory minimum staffing in the fire department contracts – there must be 8 firefighters on duty at all times. If someone gets sick or is injured (and one firefighter is out on long-term leave right now), he/she must be replaced by someone working OT. Because firefighters work round-the-clock shifts, a firefighter’s sick day costs the city 24 hours of OT, not 8. And if an incident requires more firefighters or police officers than are on duty, they get called in, of course.

    In other words, if you add up the raises given to the Mayor and Clerk/Chamberlain, they wouldn’t pay one week’s worth of overtime for police and fire protection.

    I won’t pretend to be an expert here. I have no idea whether it would be better to hire more staff to cut down on the OT or not — the Mayor said there are arguments pro and con — and the Mayor said you wouldn’t argue about OT if it was your house on fire. Whether you think that’s worth it or not is up to you.

    And a side point about fire protection: Some have argued that the city could close the West Side Fire Station and save money. Unless it’s negotiated, the mandatory minimum staffing would likely survive any closing, meaning you’d still have to have 8 firefighters on duty, but they’d all be at the East Side Station. And the equipment from West Side would need to be stored somewhere. But more than that, the second fire station prevents a hidden tax increase. It keeps homeowners’ fire insurance rates lower. I recall that when I did some work (well before we opened this publication) for the administration of former Mayor Don Bullard (no relation, but a great friend), he was under pressure from the fire insurance rating companies to build a third fire station. They said a city our size needed three stations. They threatened to raise fire insurance rates otherwise. He successfully argued that the city was adequately covered by two stations and that its unique configuration — split neatly in half by the river — made a third station unnecessary. But the potential for higher fire insurance rates can get lost in this discussion of cutting fire services.

    I hope this helped. I’m not taking a position here — just passing along what was said elsewhere and what little I know from other experiences. You should talk to your Alderman and you might also contact Tim Farrell, of Farrell & Ferrazzoli Jewelers in Fulton, who’s putting together a Citizens’ Commission to study city services.

  6. Dave
    December 22, 2009 at 8:08 am

    Perhaps we could have the Library open Friday, Saturday, Monday and Wednesday from 9:30am to 7:30pm this totals 40 hours. This would also allow everyone a chance to use the Library and they could even turn the lights off and reduce the heat on Tuesdays and Thursdays when the Library is closed reducing costs even more. Additionally they could have the extension site open Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 3 to 6 totaling 12 hours and would better access. Few people work the traditional 9 to 5 work week any more.

  7. Donna
    December 22, 2009 at 8:27 am

    Thanks, Dave. I appreciate the information.

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