FULTON, NY – The city of Fulton slashed its public library funding this year and now school tax payers will decide if they want to continue supporting the institution as trustees work to restore revenue by asking voters to establish it as a school district public library.
Fulton Public Library Director Betty Maute and Library Board of Trustees President Marian Stanton voiced the trustees’ proposals to fund the public library during Fulton City School District’s Board of Education meeting Tuesday.
Alluding to the past five years of city budget cuts, the trustees president said, “We haven’t had stable funding. When push comes to shove, the library gets shoved.”
“It’s the people of the school district who will be the people supporting the library,” Stanton told the approximately 25 residents and board members.
In order to keep the library a vital institution, the Board of Trustees drafted two proposals which the Board of Education agreed to include in the May 20, school district vote.
The first library proposition includes permanently establishing the city public library as a school district public library, and shifting the entire proposed annual operating cost to taxpayers throughout the school district in order to relieve its dependence on the city of Fulton funding.
Within that proposition voters would cast their ballots to either support the 2014-2015 proposed $350,000 budget and thereby the library, or not.
The second proposition defines switching from a city-government appointed board of trustees to a taxpayer-elected board and electing seven members to the board.
A reliable funding source
After a Volney resident raised questions about who would be affected by the proposed tax shift, Stanton responded that although all school district taxpayers already pay library taxes, that money alone is not supporting the entire project and taxes across the district would increase.
According to preliminary numbers provided by the school district, based on the proposed $350,000 annual budget the 2014-2015 library tax would increase district-wide from an average of $0.23 per $1,000 of assessed value to $0.48 per $1,000.
The library’s budget last year was $281,355 and school district taxpayers footed about two-thirds of that bill.
Currently all residents in the Fulton City School District – which includes the city of Fulton, most of the towns of Granby and Volney, and small pockets in the towns of Palermo, Oswego, Minetto and Scriba – pay a library tax as listed on their school tax bill.
Because the library has been a Fulton City municipally funded institution, school district taxpayers who reside in the city of Fulton also pay more in their city property tax bill to support the public library’s operating costs.
When the Common Council passed the city’s 2014 Operating Budget in December, funding for the city library was cut in half to $50,000.
During a January interview with OswegoCountyToday.com, Mayor Ron Woodward noted that eight years ago city of Fulton taxpayers contributed $210,000 to the library’s operations. In 2009 that was cut back to $180,000.
In 2011 when the city cut funding by another $80,000 – nearly one third of the library’s funding at that time – taxpayers district-wide picked up $65,000 of the slack in the library tax collected alongside the school tax.
In 2012 and 2013 the city of Fulton taxpayers subsidized $100,00 or about one-third of the library’s $281,255 operating budget.
Most of the remaining $181,000 in operating funds were collected by the school district on behalf of the library through the separate library tax.
“The thing you want to understand is that in most cities the school districts fund the library,” Woodward said in January. “We cut them back over the years and the school districts began collecting taxes from the entire school district to fund the library.”
The mayor added that cutting municipal funding for the past few years has been 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,” the mayor explained.
During Tuesday’s meeting Fulton City School District Superintendent Bill Lynch reiterated that the library tax will not be related to any specific zip code, but would be applied specifically to the property and taxpayers within the entire Fulton City School District.
“Just as the current library tax those individuals pay, those individuals will continue to pay,” Lynch said.
“The library is not going to be tied to the school district,” Stanton noted. “One of the things we want to do is increase the offerings of the library to the public. We want to be able to re-open six or seven days per week. We want to do more programs for the public … more adult programming.”
Some residents uncertain
William Pierce lives just over the Fulton City line in the town of Volney. “We’ve been paying that school tax since the school board put it on the ballot,” Pierce told Stanton during Tuesday’s meeting.
“It shouldn’t have been put there in the first place,” he added, “it should have been put on the General Election. It has nothing to do with the school system. The school has its own library.”
Pierce urged library administrators and the Board of Education to wait and put this to vote next year in order to give people more time to learn and understand the reasons and implications for the shift, and ascertain the usefulness of the library.
“We pay for the school libraries, the school computers … people are so disgruntled that they don’t even want to go vote,” Pierce said.
When OswegoCountyToday.com posted an article in January that the library’s funding had been cut, that story accrued the following comments:
Cindy mulcahey on January 16, 2014 at 5:44 am said:
Apparently the city feels it’s up to the people to keep (the Fulton Public Library) going and where in the world are they suppose to get the money from, especially the ones that have retired and now are on a fixed income?
Mike on January 16, 2014 at 9:31 am said:
People who work are on a ‘fixed income’ too. It’s not like the boss will give us a raise to pay more for the library. Go all volunteer or close it.
At what cost?
Board member Fred Cavalier asked Stanton, “what is the current yearly budget?”
“$230,000 since the cut this year,” the trustee said.
With the budget cut, the library cut its hours and staffing in order to make ends meet this year.
Using an average of the preliminary 2014-2015 library tax rate projections of $0.23 per $1,000 of assessed value for the current year, and the possible increase to $0.48 per $1,000 under the proposed funding shift, a home valued at $70,000 with a current annual library tax bill of $16.10 would realize an increase to $33.60 – about $17.50 more per year.
OswegoCountyToday.com, using the city’s adopted budget, calculated if the city of Fulton had reduced its 2014 budget by $50,000 – the amount budgeted to support the public library – a city of Fulton taxpayer with a $70,000 home would have saved $10.64 in city taxes this year.
In that case, the overall net library tax increase for a city taxpayer to fully support the public library under the proposal would be approximately $6.86 per year.
Lynch advised the public that the school district’s only responsibility in these propositions would be to put them on the ballot and collect the library’s taxes.
“The school district will have no responsibility for the library building, we won’t have any responsibility for the library staff, nor will we have any responsibility for the budget,” Lynch said.
Woodward said in January that the city owns and maintains the library building on South West First Street.
As the district awaits word from Albany on the state’s budget and how state aid to schools would be impacted, the next school board budget workshop meeting has been scheduled for April 1.
Members of the public are invited to attend the meeting and encouraged to voice their opinion regarding the school superintendent’s proposed budget, the two library propositions, or any other district budget concern.
The Board of Education will meet Tuesday at the Education Center on South Fourth Street and the workshop is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.