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Prendergast Library Argues In Favor Of Library Tax Ballot Measure

Governor Cuomo recently announced an extension on school budget ballots, which can now be received by mail through June 16. The James Prendergast Library’s Board of Trustees would like to encourage all voters in the Jamestown Public School District to take this opportunity to make your voice heard and send in your ballots. We would also like to take a moment to provide information to voters and clarify statements that were made in an op-ed that was recently submitted to The Post-Journal by a member of our community which was published on June 6, 2020.

This op-ed states that “for 2020 the city of Jamestown taxpayers alone paid $100,000 funding to the library, doubling the library’s $50,000 taxpayer funding from previous two years.” What the op-ed fails to mention is until 2017, the library received $350,000 a year in taxpayer funding – and the library had been receiving that level of funding, or more, since 1988. This vote is about restoring the library’s tax support to the level that the library has consistently received. If this vote were to pass, a home assessed at $50,000 would pay $11.50 a year towards the library. The amount of money levied by this tax could not be increased without another community-wide vote.

The op-ed claims that the library’s attorney, Robert Schofield, stated in a library board meeting that it may not be the best time to ask for tax funding support. In fact, Mr. Schofield did not counsel the library board to not keep the library’s proposition on the school district ballot. He is well aware of the mandates by New York state that Prendergast Library pursue tax support for three consecutive years, or until the vote passes, in order to reinstate state aid. Mr. Schofield and the board acknowledged that this is a difficult year for tax payers and recognized the economic instability the COVID pandemic has placed on all communities. The board is exploring the possibility of elected board members in the future. In 2020, that change could not take place due to the pandemic. The board and library management are focused on providing services and adhering to state guidelines in order to maintain staff and patron safety.

This $350,000 in taxpayer support would represent a fraction of the library’s budget. The library’s total budget in 2020 is $824,357, down from $1.2 million in 2015. We have made significant cuts in order to downsize our budget, including a decrease in staff from 36 employees in 2012 to 14 in 2020. If the library funding vote passed, the library would continue to seek out additional forms of revenue to balance out our budget. We would continue to fundraise, as we do each year — our fundraising goal for 2020 is $100,000. The library actively pursues funding in the form of grants from community organizations – in 2020, $156,000, which is 19% of the library’s budget, is funded through grants.

Why is Prendergast seeking $350,000 in taxpayer support? That is the minimum amount required by New York state for financial aid from the state to be restored. If local funding were restored to $350,000, the library would also receive $111,000 annually from the state, and its co-central library status would be restored. This aid from the state was cut because of the dramatic decrease in local taxpayer funding, when the city cut library funding from $350,000 in 2016 to $100,000 in 2017 and $50,000 in 2018.

The op-ed states that “‘state aid’ the Prendergast library receives goes towards providing ‘other services’ to 33 other smaller libraries in the (Chautauqua Cattaraugus Library System)” and questions why tax dollars should support this. As the library serving the largest city in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus, Prendergast has long had a larger collection of materials than other smaller libraries, and we share these materials with smaller libraries. State aid helps support the purchasing of these materials, so we are able to offer a wide variety of books, movies, and media to residents all over both counties – and these materials are easily accessible to everyone in Jamestown too, since they are housed at Prendergast. Sharing resources is a vital component to libraries everywhere, and Prendergast is proud to be able to participate in that.

Like libraries nationwide, Prendergast has evolved from a traditional library to a multifaceted community center as we strive to continue providing a wide variety of relevant services to our community. What does this mean? It means that the library provides more resources than ever before.

Prendergast continues to offer all the traditional resources that libraries have historically provided – access to free materials, quiet study spaces, meeting rooms for the community, educational programming, and reference services provided by librarians. But we are also proud to provide free public access to the Internet, computers, printing, faxing, and copying services, technology assistance, eBooks and online audiobooks, online databases such as Rosetta Stone and Ancestry Online, and a technology-focused Makerspace. The library supports community members of all ages and all socioeconomic statuses – whether you’re looking for a new bestseller to read or need to use a computer to search for jobs, we’re here to help no matter what.

For more information about the library’s funding situation and this budget vote, please visit www.prendergastlibrary.org/funding.

The James Prendergast Library Board of Trustees is comprised of Joni Blackman, Lynn Warner, Micki McCray, Michael A. Corey, Lori Fabritius, Cassie Blakeslee, Frank Corapi, Robert Hewitt, Dan Hickman, Ned Lindstrom, Maggie Scorse and Mary Zdrojewski.

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