SITUATION: The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library faces a $6.8 million shortfall for 2011 if the budget proposed by County Executive Chris Collins stands. Library hours will be reduced from 332 to 205. Scores of professional librarians, some with as much as 10 years of service, are being layed-off.
COST: Buffalo/Erie County library services cost $28.64 per capita while comparably sized cities pay $43 and up per capita.
The Collins budget cuts $4 million from the Library’s 2011 operating budget. This coupled with the loss of over $30,000 in State Aid and the loss of $750,000 in County Inter-Fund Transfer Revenue accounts for a total revenue shortfall of $4.8 million. Coupled with a $1.2 million shortfall currently managed by the Library Fund Balance and a projected 2011 increase in operating costs of $800,000 brings the total projected shortfall to $6.8 million. The proposed 2011 Buffalo & Erie County Public Library operating budget is $21,500,000 down from $27,500,00 in 2010, a cut of over 20%.
If this Budget is adopted, it translates into reduced access to facilities (hours in all libraries will be cut), access to information (computers, high-speed Internet and library materials), programming (children’s story hours, adult computer training and outreach programs). In addition, it dramatically reduces Library staff. It is estimated that the cuts will mean approximately 105 full-time equivalent positions will be laid off with a reduction in hours and benefits for those employees who remain. This occurs at a time when Library utilization has increased across the board. Visits, computer sessions and circulation have continually risen since the lay-offs of 2005. All of these statistics are from the Library’s 2011 Budget Planning statement located at the Library’s website (www.buffalolib.org).
The Board of Trustees of the Library has assured the public that under this budget, no libraries will be closed. Although true in the short term, this statement is misleading. It should state that no libraries would be closed, yet. With ratification of this Budget, all of the System libraries will be in non-compliance to New York State standards for minimum hours. The System will request a variance for non-compliance in mid-2012. If any of the libraries are not in compliance after that time, they risk losing their State charters, accreditation and State aid. It is very likely that many of the smaller libraries will be closed at that time, as current levels of staffing and funding will not allow those libraries to become compliant.
So far, there has been a lack of public advocacy on the part of the Library’s Board of Trustees and Library Director. This may be due to the fact that the four appointees of the County Executive (Anne Leary, John Schmidt, Rick Lewis and Albert Michaels) have encouraged a policy of accepting the cuts. Ms Leary, Mr. Lewis, and Mr. Schmidt, as well as the Library Director (Bridget Quinn-Carey) and other Trustees have all donated money to the Collins For Our Future Election Committee. In fact, Ms. Leary and Mr. Schmidt are co-chairs of the Finance Committee for that organization. This behavior is outrageous in that the Library Board of Trustees adopted a Conflict of Interest and Ethics Policy on September 16, 2010 (Resolution 2010-34). In that Code, it states that Board members …”shall perform their duties impartially”, …”avoid situations in which their personal interests, activities or financial affairs are, or likely to be perceived as being in conflict with the best interests of the B&ECPL”, …”avoid having interests that may reasonably bring into question their position in a fair, impartial and objective manner”, …”not knowingly act in any way that would reasonably be expected to create an impression among the public that they are engaged in conduct that violates their trust as Board members or officials”, …”not use or attempt to use their position with the B&ECPL to obtain unwarranted privileges or advantages for themselves or others”, …”shall avoid situations in which personal interests might be served or financial benefits gained at the expense of library users”, and …”shall distinguish clearly in their actions and statements between their personal philosophies and attitudes and those of the institution”.
At past Board meetings in response to the Collins budget, Ms. Leary has stated she would not "go to war with Chris Collins," and "we can close libraries later." Mr. Lewis has repeatedly stated "Laying off employees and closing libraries is not the worst thing you can do." Director Quinn-Carey has remained silent when comments such as these are made. Are these Trustees of Mr. Collins or the public library system? Although Director Quinn-Carey has been featured on local news outlets, public relations is not the same thing as advocacy.
The fact of the matter is that the cuts to the Library are not lowering anyone’s taxes. They merely shift money from the Library, which serves the entire population of Erie County to the County Executive so he can reward his friends and political appointees. This is an outrage since Erie County has an enormous reserve fund of over $70 million, much of it in Federal Stimulus money.
However, friends and supporters of the library have attempted to advocate on the library's behalf, even if the Trustees and Director refuse to do so. There is an online petition at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/savebecpl/ and a rally opposing these cuts on Saturday, November 6 at Noon in Lafayette Square, downtown Buffalo. Library supporters will also be at the public budget meeting at the Erie County Legislature on November 10.