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The Montclair Public Library. (ERIN ROLL / STAFF)

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

The Montclair Public Library’s leadership hopes to reopen its Bellevue Avenue branch and bring back staff this year, after major cuts in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. But it won’t know if that’s possible until the township releases its final budget numbers. 

Under the state’s “third of a mil” funding formula, Montclair is required to provide the library with at least $33 for every $100,000 of assessed property value — which in 2021 amounts to $2,680,152. That’s $51,383 higher than in 2020.

But the township has discretion over how much additional funding to provide. In 2020, it originally budgeted $887,141 in additional funds — for about $3.5 million in total. But revenue shortfalls saw Montclair scale that back by about $530,000, a move that the library says forced it to lay off 21 staff members. 

A temporary budget for 2021 projects $829,705 in additional funding beyond the required $2,680,152. The required and additional funds together would bring the library budget within a few thousand dollars of last year’s originally budgeted levels.

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Library Director Peter Coyl said the library hopes the final budget will include at least that amount.

Late last year, during preliminary budget talks, Coyl said he was hoping to see about  $1.1 million beyond the required funding. Coyl said the library will not be able to make any determinations on programs or staffing until it sees its final budget number. 

At a Feb. 16 Township Council meeting, Deputy Mayor Bill Hurlock said he had been receiving a lot of emails regarding a finance committee meeting with the library. 

“I know we had asked the library what they needed to do, we didn’t get an answer, we asked again, we got a half-answer,” Hurlock said. “Got a couple of emails after that, and we met the number we were asked to, period. So I really don’t have much more to say on that one.”  

Coyl said that the library had no comment on Hurlock’s remarks. Hurlock has not returned messages seeking further comment.

Coyl has been under consideration for the library director post at the Dayton Metro Public Library in Ohio. He declined to comment on his applying for the position, or on whether he was planning to stay on as Montclair’s library director. 

Irena Goldstein, chair of the Montclair Public Library Foundation, declined comment except to reference a letter she submitted to Montclair Local in February, when she criticized Hurlock for previously saying of the library budget process “We have asked what the ask was, and we have met that ask.”

“Montclair deserves a government that is transparent with its citizens and that provides more than mere lip service to its library. The library provides essential services and is deserving of Montclair’s full support. We recognize the many demands on Montclair’s elected government, but strongly urge that, given the critical importance of the library to the community at large, the library receive the full funding that it deserves and requires to fully serve all of Montclair’s citizens,” she wrote at the time.

The library was closed for nearly seven months last year due to the pandemic. Some in-person services resumed in October at its main branch on South Fullerton Avenue, but its Bellevue Avenue branch has yet to reopen. Employees had been furloughed for 27 weeks before the 21 staffers were let go.