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Library Board Discuses Possible Trustee Residency Requirement

James Prendergast Library.

A residency requirement might be added to the by-laws of the James Prendergast Library Association.

On Thursday, library board members hosted an online workshop to discuss the options of either having a trustee residency requirement, election or to become a school district public library. No residents of the public spoke during the online workshop or submitted questions to the board prior to the online workshop.

The discussion started with Annie Green, James Prendergast Library executive director, discussing the options with the board, which included staying the same with no board election or residency requirement; changing the by-laws to either have a trustee residency requirement or elected board members; or to be a school district public library district where trustees and an annual budget would need to be approved by voters.

Greene said if a school district public library district was created it would increase how much taxpayers would pay for the library. As an example, Greene said the Olean Public Library is a school district library where taxpayers in the district fund 91%, or $1,061,092, of the library’s budget. Also, she said the Dunkirk Public Library is also a school district library where taxpayers fund 73%, or $350,000, of the library’s budget.

In June, voters approved a tax levy to fund the Prendergast Library $350,000 annually, which is only 42% of the library’s 2020 budget.

Greene said the main reason library officials would need to ask taxpayers for more money would be if the Prendergast Library changed to a school district library they would need to hire more staff because the positions would become civil service jobs. She said each civil service employee would have a specific job description for their position, which would force the library to hire more staff to provide the same services it currently does. She added that the current staff is cross-trained to handle several responsibilities and is very efficient.

Greene said library officials would need to ask for around $495,000 in tax support if it changed to a school district library, which would be an increase of $145,000.

Greene also said if the district changed to holding board elections for trustee position it would cost $2,300 annual. Joni Blackman, board president, said it would also increase the work load for the library’s staff to host an election annually.

The library board voiced their displeasure on changing to a school district library or to hold annual elections because of the increase in costs to taxpayers.

“If we changed to school district library it would cost the taxpayers a lot more money,” said Maggie Scorse, library trustee. “That’s not a good thing.”

When the board talked about its options, the focus of the discussion was on the possible residency requirement. The majority were against the residency requirement because it would limit the “talent pool” for potential board members, of which at times it has been difficult to find people to volunteer for the position.

Mike Corey, library trustee, said the library has functioned for more than 120 years with a similar setup to how it operates today and he is happy with how the board is run.

“Those on the board are interested in the region around Jamestown and they are very committed to the library,” he said.

Mary Zdrojewski, library trustee, said she thinks a residency requirement would be good because the Jamestown community should be in charge of how the library is operated.

“I think the community should have a majority voice,” she said.

Dan Hickman, library trustee, suggested that perhaps the number of Jamestown residents on the board should correspond to the percentage of the tax levy city residents pay toward the library’s annual budget, which in 2020 is 42%.

Blackman charged the board’s 259-funding vote committee to create a proposal to possibly include a residency requirement to be discussed at the next board meeting, which is at 5:15 p.m. Thursday.

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