By J.L. Rebeor
FULTON, N.Y. – The news that Fulton’s public library would be one of the hardest hit by the city’s financial woes was not a surprise to the facility’s administrators even though it came after the library’s budget was already approved for 2014.
The city’s budget vote Dec. 26 included a decision to cut taxpayer funding to the library by half.
That meant a $50,000 reduction to the bottom line. In 2013 the city subsidized $100,00 of the library’s $281,255 budget.
In an interview with Oswego County Today.com, Fulton Public Library Director Betty Maute said even though the board approved its 2014 budget early in December, before the city’s final budget, the cut did not come as a surprise.
“I understand totally. When you see what’s happening to the city – it prepares you,” Maute said. “The board will be meeting later this month to readjust.”
Until then, the director will not know for sure what changes have to be made due to the reduced funding.
But this is not the first reduction in city tax dollars to the public library.
Mayor Ron Woodward said just eight years ago city taxpayers contributed $210,000 to the library’s operations. In 2009 that was cut back to $180,000; then in 2012 to $100,000. Now it’s $50,000.
“The thing you want to understand is that in most cities the school districts fund the library,” Woodward said. “We cut them back over the years and the school districts began collecting taxes from the entire school district to fund the library.”
The Fulton City School District educates students who live in the city of Fulton but also the surrounding towns of Volney, Granby, Minetto, Palermo, and Scriba according to its website.
In 2011 when the city cut funding by $80,000 – nearly one third of the library’s funding – taxpayers district-wide picked up $65,000 of the slack.
The mayor said although it is the Fulton City Library and the building is owned and maintained by the city, the facility is used by the greater community including surrounding towns.
“My goal, eventually I believe the whole thing should be paid for on the school tax bill,” Woodward said. “The city should not be contributing money (to the library operating fund.) We have other things that building needs from a maintenance standpoint and we will take care of them. At the end of the day we’re still shouldering the financial responsibility of the upkeep.”
The mayor added that cutting funding was a hard decision because the library is so important to the community.
“They help a lot of children, a lot of seniors, they give people access to computers who normally wouldn’t have them so they can do job searches,” he said. “And, they have a whole section of books for children. … But when you consider the fairness to Fulton taxpayers, they’re paying for it on the school taxes – like everybody is. But they’re also paying for it in their city taxes.”
It is Woodward’s hope, he said, that eventually “I would help the board and Betty to do a public campaign to fund the whole thing through the school tax bill.”
Maute noted the North Country Library System, to which Fulton belongs, has encouraged libraries to find more stable financial resources – outside of municipal funding.
But in order to do that, public libraries have only two choices. “You can either get the school district voters to say, ‘Yes, we’ll support the library.’ That’s what we’re looking at right now. We get two-thirds of our funding from them,” the director said. “The other option is a special legislative district, which means instead of the school district collecting the taxes, a special district is created for the library … then each town would collect the taxes for us.”
Meanwhile, Maute is looking at what last month’s city budget cut may mean to the facility right now.
“The majority of our budget is staffing,” she said.
Including Maute, the library currently employs five people full-time and two part-time.
She said there are also dedicated volunteers who routinely donate their services to the facility.
“When we lost the $80,000 in 2011, what we did was close two days a week and shortened the hours on Saturday so we wouldn’t need extra staff to cover lunch hours,” she said. “And we laid off one person.”