In November 2020, the Montclair township manager was provided a proposed budget with three budget alternatives for the Montclair Library that set forth the services that the library would be able to provide to residents at each funding level. It clearly set forth that any funding by the township at certain low levels would result in, among other things, the closure of the Bellevue Avenue branch, and that the library would not be open on the weekends. In other words, it should come as no surprise to the Montclair council that the library has had to reduce its services.
Earlier this month, the Montclair Public Library Foundation publicly posted information about the lack of funding and urged residents to contact their respective members of the council. This action was not taken lightly, but was in direct reaction to certain postings on social media by residents who mistakenly believed that the reduction of library services was due solely to decisions of its management and staff. That could not be further from the truth. Residents have a right to know that the library is providing reduced services because it is not being adequately funded.
Further, as set forth in my prior letter to the Montclair Local, there is a lack of transparency that prevents residents from being properly informed. For example, the amount of the budget above the minimum required to be paid to the library from our property taxes decreased from $1,757,955.22 (as of a temporary budget on March 16) to $319,848.49 (as of the budget proposed on April 6, and up for a public hearing May 4) — a decrease of $1,438,106.73. One would think that the council, including the mayor, would want to get ahead of the story and offer an explanation for this decrease to the public. Instead, as pointed out by Ms. Cordelia Siporin, president of the Friends of the Bellevue Avenue Library, in her Town Square guest column in Montclair Local, this inaction of the Montclair council is a political mistake of the first order. Further, I know of no other library in our region that has had such draconian cuts to its funding during the pandemic.
Having a fully functioning library is not a luxury – it is a necessity. I recognize that it is the council’s responsibility to evaluate all priorities in the township’s budget; in our judgment, however, the council must treat the library as a critical priority and restore funding to enable the library to adequately fulfill its comprehensive mission to the Montclair community.
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To be clear, the Montclair Public Library Foundation is not looking to foment personal rancor or start a political fight, but instead, is fulfilling its role as an advocate for the library. Libraries are for everyone, all political stripes and all walks of life. We can agree to disagree, but we need to have the debate.
Chair, Montclair Public Library Foundation
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