Mount Vernon library not closing Dec. 31

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An ominous sign at the entrance to the Mount Vernon Public Library warns patrons that the library will close on Dec. 31 if it does not get more money than Mayor Clinton Young proposed in his 2011 executive budget.

However, at the library’s monthly trustees’ meeting last night, board president Millie Burns said that the library will not close at the end of the year.

Burns also stated that library officials were not “crying wolf,” because closure is a real possibility if the library’s proposed 2011 of $3.5 million is not restored to the 2009 funding level of $4.1 million.

Under Young’s 2011 proposed budget, homeowners are facing a 5.54 percent tax increase that will hit the average homeowner with a $173.44 property-tax increase.

Additional help for the library could mean a higher tax hike, unless other city services are cut.

This situation has led to finger pointing among library administrators, library workers and elected officials.

At last night’s meeting library officials said city officials do not understand the library’s obligations because the library cannot simply lay off more staffers and continue operating 55 hours a week, which it is legally mandated to do.

“We are being forced to follow our charter,” Burns said last night. “The (state education) regents will reject our charter if we don’t follow it.”

However, library workers union president Gary Newman called the crisis “ridiculous.”

“People are very angry at what they regard as the poor administration of the library,” he told the trustees last night.

On Tuesday Young said that library officials have to work harder.

“The library board and administration have to be more aggressive in raising funding,” he said.

Last night Burns noted that the Mount Vernon Public Library Foundation, which is supposed to raise money, actually considered disbanding itself, an idea she opposed.

Earlier today the library’s director Opal Lindsay, said that she and the board will continue to draw up plans for addressing their financial crisis.

“What we’re trying to do is work out scenarios,” she said.

There is not much time left to make changes to the city’s 2011 budget or the library’s appropriation. The Mount Vernon City Council will meet on Friday morning to set a public hearing on the budget, which must be adopted by Dec. 31.

As part of the fingerpointing, Young release a statement of his own about the library’s crisis last week. Here it is…MAYOR YOUNG SPEAKS OUT ON THE MOUNT PUBLIC LIBRARY CONTROVERSY

December 9, 2010;

Mount Vernon, NY – “With the rumors circulating about the possible closure of the Mount Vernon Public Library at year’s end, it is important to reiterate my position on the status and continued operation of this important and historic institution.

I have consistently been loud and clear in saying that my administration is fully committed to the success of the library. Not only is it the Central Library in the Westchester Library System, but it is historically significant in that it is the last remaining Carnegie funded library and it plays a very important role in the lives of so many of our citizens.

The proposed 2011 municipal budget allocates $3.5 million to the operation of the library, which causes me to question the wisdom and intention of any rumored decision to close the library on January 1, 2011. Wouldn’t it serve the best interests of our citizens to remain open while all involved parties look to find funding solutions that would not only keep the doors open, but also help the library to reach new heights?

In the proposed 2011 budget, as well as the 2010 budget, every city department has suffered significant reductions to their operating budget and, unfortunately, the library is no exception.

Today’s challenging economic conditions should be no surprise to the administration or the Board of the Mount Vernon Public Library. Since the very beginning of my tenure as Mayor, I have met many times with each of those parties and indicated to them that their total dependency upon city funding cannot continue and that they must make a greater effort to secure grant funding. It is quite clear that the library has failed in its commitment to pursue other revenue sources.

It is also important to highlight the very unique governance issue regarding the Mount Vernon Public Library. The Board of Education, an entity completely separate from city government, has the responsibility of selecting the library trustees who oversee the operations of the library. However, the city is responsible for funding the library’s budget with absolutely no say in how that institution is run. This must change.

Again, I reiterate my commitment to library’s success and my continued willingness to work with the Board of Trustees and the administration of the Mount Vernon Public Library to find solutions that would allow the library to thrive as an institution.”

– Clinton I. Young, Jr., Mayor

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26 Comments

  1. We need the community’s support to reverse this great crisis of our library which will affect the staff and the patrons.

  2. No mayors ever told library officials your budget will be cut and to obtain more donations and grants for your operations. Public libraries are not revenue generating institutions such as the finance departments. To win more grants and donations there may be a need to hire a media person or special projects or successful grant writers.
    The support from mayors usually come in a good budget, encouragement to the library staff and valuating its importance in the city.

  3. While the State Board of Regents requires the MVPL to stay open 55 hours/week to maintain its charter, the same section allows for the library’s administration to request a waiver of that mandate from the Board of Regents. The $137,000/year director Opal Lindsey and the trustees refuse to seek such a waiver. I’m surprised that this reporter failed to bring this up.

    Perhaps the next time they write an article about this situation they can ask Opal Lindsey why they have not requested a waiver until they can work out their finances.

  4. There was a deputy director who had among her duties writing for grants. Well, due to Opal’s miserable management style, she left not long after she started. If you want to solve many of the library’s problems, fire Opal Lindsay.

  5. While it is the library director and trustee’s responsibilities to mange the budget and suplement the funding with donations and grants, the majority of the funding depend on the city and taxpayers. The budget reflects the value of the library in the community and support of the city and mayor and the taxpayers.

  6. We are pleased to hear the mayor state his commitment to the success of the library. The library needs a budget allocation that turns that commitment into reality. Closing the Mount Vernon Public Library is the last thing that the library’s board of trustees wants to do. It is important for everyone to understand what it will take for the library to open its doors in 2011.

    The proposed 2011 municipal budget that allocates $3.5 million to the operation of the library, is in reality only $3.15 million. The Comptroller’s Office informed the Library in November 2010 that the January 2010 payment made to staff for retroactive salaries due upon settlement of the new labor contract was being charged against the current year or 2010 budget. Our 2010 budget did not include contingency funds for retroactive salary pay and we do not have reserves to repay the City of Mount Vernon for such a large and unexpected shortfall. Prior to the January 2010 distribution, representatives from the labor union and library administration met with the Comptroller in December 2009 to confirm that the appropriations in our 2009 budget, set aside in anticipation of contract settlement, should be carried forward into the new year and prepared for immediate distribution upon ratification of the new labor contract. Apparently, this was not done and have only learned of this fiscally devastating decision on November 10, 2010 therefore, we must now plan to repay these funds from our 2011 budget

    The Library is faced with the reality that, while the City of Mount Vernon budget shows an increase over last year, the Library budget has been cut and that is even before we address the current shortfall.

    In simple terms, if we keep our doors locked, turn off the lights and start packing up half our collections we must still expend close to 2 million dollars for non negotiable and fixed expenses like health insurance premiums for our staff, retirement benefits that include accrued vacation and leave payments, the dues required for our inclusion in the Westchester Library System, and unemployment benefits that follow layoffs. This does not include staff salaries, building security services or the ongoing and increasing costs of purchasing basic and essential library materials.

    The Mount Vernon Public Library must now consider not only additional staff layoffs but implementing a plan of operation that will certainly challenge the handful of staff that would remain. We must operate our library in accordance with state mandates for at least 55 hours a week and at the same time provide our patrons with a level of services appropriate to a Central Library. We excelled in this task with a staff of over 30, but with less than 10 full time librarians can we accomplish anything close to meeting the rigid State Board of Regents standards?

    The library continues our affirmative and aggressive efforts to find funding solutions while remaining realistic about what finances are required. Today’s challenging economic conditions are no surprise to the board of the Mount Vernon Public Library. Despite these conditions the library has been able to provide thousands of patrons with materials, resources, services, and programs. Non municipal funding for library programs has come from ArtsWestchester, the American Library Association, the Junior League of Bronxville, the Helena Rubinstein Foundation, University of the State of New York – New York State Education Department, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Target, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Home Depot, and the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York. We don’t see it as a failure to have been awarded funds by these institutions; we see it as a success in helping the library’s mission to provide quality library service to the residents of Mount Vernon in an efficient manner, in order to meet the educational, information, cultural and recreational needs of our patrons.

    The mayor correctly states that the Board of Education, an entity completely separate from city government, has the responsibility of selecting the library trustees who oversee the operations of the library and that the city is responsible for funding the library’s budget. At no time since the founding of the library has the Board of Education included the library in its budget. The City has funded the library. That system presents another level of challenges to the health and welfare of our library. Presently, the school district has no direct control over the operations of the library and neither does it support the library other to encourage students and faculty to utilize our resources. This will change because of the State Board of Regents, which charters all public libraries, requires that the Mount Vernon Public Library operate as a school district library. As a school district library, trustees will be elected by the voters who will also vote to approve the library’s annual budget. The funds for the budget will be collected by the school district and turned over to the library trustees. see http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/libs/pldtools/guide/1bltsd.htm

    We optimistically accept Mayor Clinton Young’s offer to “find solutions that would allow the library to thrive as an institution.” We are committed to work with our Mayor and to pursue every available resource. However, we do so understanding that our financial needs are considerable and immediate. We must face the fact that without the City of Mount Vernon’s commitment to adequately fund our budget, within the next few days the Library will not resemble the institution that the Mount Vernon community has relied upon and been proud to claim

    We take seriously our responsibility to provide Mount Vernon with library services that are commensurate with the level of excellence the community both deserves and demands. However, in the face of such severe budget shortfalls we cannot continue to operate as if “somehow” or “some way” the City will increase its financial commitment to this vital public service.

    Our stewardship of the funds allocated to us must be realistic and fiscally responsible. If we are expected to refund to the City, monies we were led to believe had been set aside in 2009, then repay them in 2011 we must.

    Board of Trustees, Mount Vernon Public Library

  7. libraryfriends on

    We are led to believe that there are some conflicts between city officials and the library and some unfair practices are committed against the library.

  8. There are laws that provide and require for the establishment of public libraries in cities. There are standards high when deemed as professional not rigid that must meet and upheld for service levels in public libraries.

  9. We need the community to support us during the next week to change the budget before it is finalized and save the library. The mayor should see there is a public outcry to save our library. (No more layoffs and restore the budget.)

  10. Ms. Burns, as the President of the Library Board of Trustees, have you or haven’t you applied for a waiver of the 55 hour week to the state Board of Regents? It is an avenue that you know full well is available to you. It’s a simple question.

    Also Ms. Burns, are you saying that the Comptroller lied to you?

  11. The seeking of a refund of the pay raise appear to be a violation of the Taylor Law. The terms and condition of employment are approved months ago and now the comptroller wants to renege on them. Maybe we should file a complaint.

  12. libraryfriends on

    This is absurb. How can the comptroller disputes about the payroll and further diminish the library’s budget. There never was this big mess before this administration. The community and other authority have step in provide more professional guidances.

  13. libraryfriends on

    According to a relible source, it is untrue that all departments experienced cut backs. On the contrary, all departments receive an increase except for the library. Contact the mayor and the city coucil about the unfair practice and lack of appreciation for the libray after years of service and contribution to Mount Vernon.

  14. Tamara Stewart on

    I’m glad to see the active discussion about the library that’s taking place on this blog. I would like to piggyback on what libraryfriends said about other city departments experiencing cutbacks. I read the Mayor’s 12/9/10 statement about the library (posted at http://cmvny.com/cmsget?exporturi=/export/sites/cmvny3/modules/news/news_0273.html_605654780.html), and carefully reviewed the 2011 Proposed Annual Budget (posted at http://cmvny.com/cmsget?exporturi=/export/sites/cmvny3/pdf/public-notice/budget/2011ProposedCityBudgetWeb.pdf). As a result of my reading and review, I am both disappointed and offended by the Mayor’s assertion that “every city department has suffered significant reductions in their operating budget[s] and, unfortunately, the library is no exception.”

    The truth is that most city departments are slated to receive an increase in their operating budgets, not a “significant reduction”; take a look for yourself. The only exception I saw was the Planning and Community Development Dept., which was slashed by over $1 million from 2010 to 2011, and I assume that was due to the completion of the City’s Comprehensive Plan. If the Mayor has decided to sacrifice the library for reasons known only to him, then he should own that decision and be honest about it. It calls his credibility into question when he makes a statement like the one he made and it can be proven to be numerically untrue. If he stands behind his statement re: significant reductions, then I’d like to sit down with him and have him point out what he’s looking at that I can’t see. If he recognizes that his statement was indeed inaccurate, then he should do the honorable thing and print a correction.

    I have already sent the Mayor a message stating everything I’ve just said, and I eagerly await a response from his office.

  15. Questionable Practices on

    There are many questionable practices. For example on December 14, 2010 Brian G. Johnson who is the Vice President of the Mount Vernon Public Library Foundation got up and said that the proposed budget for the city which cut $500,000 from the library was a good budget. He is the Assistant Corporal Counsel for the City of Mount Vernon.

    Now, the foundation is talking about disbanding the Mount Vernon Public Library which is supposed to raise funds for the library. Also Camille-Banks Lee who is the President of the Board of Directors for the Mount Vernon Public Library Foundation recently served as the Executive Director of the Mount Vernon Youth Bureau. http://www.mvplfoundation.org/ This has biographies of the Library Foundation.

    The city is indirectly tied in with the group that is supposed to raise money for the library through its foundation. When the mayor says we need to raise money, the city is indirectly trying and not doing the job. The Library Foundation is very closely tied in with the city. Punishing people for failing yourself is bad practice.

  16. libraryfriends on

    We need the community’s support to drive the city hall and mayor and library management that MVPL is a very valued and irreplaceable institution with professional staff that earns its funding and status in the city. In the future, more public and regulatory scruntiy should be placed on the competency of the management to handle the budget.

  17. libraryfriends on

    The Mount Vernon Public Library never did well with the donations drive and fund raising drive. There are typical methods such as mass mailing for regular fund drive staged by the Friends of Library.
    A budget cut at public library usually brings about hiring freeze (layoffs and demotions are rare and detrimental ) and material purchase cutback.

  18. libraryfriends on

    MAYOR CLINTON I. YOUNG, JR. RESPONDS TO COMPTROLLER/COUNCIL ALTERNATIVE BUDGET

    Mount Vernon, NY ? In preparing a 2011 spending plan for the city, I knew next year would be a challenge due to the rising costs of state pensions, health care and infrastructure repairs. I thought better of my colleagues in city government that they would yield to sound judgment and leadership during the budget process. Instead, they resorted to political agendas and vindictiveness.

    During a Mount Vernon Board of Estimate meeting held on Friday, December 17, 2010, Comptroller Maureen Walker and City Council President Yuhanna Edwards introduced and voted to adopt a secret alternative budget, which they concocted with Council members Karen Watts, Roberta Apuzzo, Diane Morris- Munro. While their budget carries a property tax percentage increase of 4.4 percent, it cuts at the very heart of city services. These cuts are deep and dangerous for our city ? and fly in the face of proposed reductions in County daycare, health and youth funding. For this, the public must hold them responsible.

    Last month, Comptroller Maureen Walker sharply criticized me for using $3 million of the City?s reserve funds for my 2011 budget proposal. In the alternative budget, she is now using more than $5.7 million in the same reserve funds. It is very hypocritical on her part to complain about using reserve funds, and then proceed to double the amount in her alternative budget.

    What?s even more bizarre, my original budget called for a 5.4 property tax percentage increase with no layoffs or reductions in city services. At Friday?s Board of Estimate meeting, I offered a revised budget plan using the Comptroller?s $5.7 million reserve fund figure and I suggested adding $350,000 to the Library budget ? again, no layoffs or reduction in services. My newly revised budget delivered a property tax percentage increase of 1.82 percent. That?s 1.82 percent! Ms. Walker and Mr. Edwards flatly rejected that proposal. How can anyone oppose $1.82 percent?

    A careful examination of past budgets will show that the Comptroller has consistently and grossly understated revenue projections by millions of dollars each year. It?s no wonder that Comptroller Walker has been able to tout a surplus year after year. The hard working property owners of our city are clearly being over taxed.

    Their alternative budget also cuts staff and services in Recreation, the Police Department, the Mayor?s Office, Senior Programs, Public Works and Human Resources. The Comptroller and City Council brazenly reduced the Inspector General?s salary from $110,000 to $35,000, despite a standing court order. They plan to continue this court battle at the taxpayer?s expense. Also, despite the public?s outcry, they proposed no additional funding for the Mount Vernon Public Library. Reductions in Management Services will jeopardize contractual agreements with copier companies and computer software upgrades. These technological improvements have saved money. Now, we?re moving backwards into the stone ages.

    Residents will also see deep cuts in jobs and services in the Youth Bureau. Executive Director DaMia Harris has worked tirelessly procure millions in grants to fund educational and character building afterschool programs for our youth. As a direct result of this budget and looming cuts in Westchester County funding, our youth services are now in seriously jeopardy. This is unconscionable! Our children need these programs preserved.

    Along with presenting a budget that is fair and reasonable to the taxpayer, my administration has achieved great strides in improving public safety. Crime is down significantly. This year, there have been no gang related murders in our city. My administration has worked closely with the community and the United Black Clergy to achieve these results. Unfortunately, the alternative budget eliminated funding for the Deputy Police Commissioner position and slashed the police equipment line by more than half. Although the City has not hired a Deputy Police Commissioner in several years, our new Police Commissioner has already started the process. He is reviewing outstanding candidates for this position, who bring strong credentials and resources to our city. It is imperative that we maintain the Police Department?s staffing levels and equipment to keep our residents safe.

    Last year, severe snow storms paralyzed the county, but Mount Vernon roads were passable thanks to the hard work of our Public Works Department. The alternative budget cuts managerial positions, staff and equipment in DPW, which directly violates union contracts and exposes the City to expensive litigation. More importantly, these cuts will dramatically reduce the City?s ability to respond to emergencies and infrastructure repairs. The Comptroller and City Council slashed the department without having a viable response plan in place to meet the needs of the City. Again, they must be held responsible when there is an interruption in city services next year.

    Development is at an all-time high in Mount Vernon. Over the past three years, my administration has engaged in preparing a Comprehensive Plan. A Comprehensive Plan, a.k.a a Master Plan, essentially helps a city craft policies, procedures to promote smart growth and development. The City?s plan has not been updated since 1968. Following an arduous resident/stakeholder survey and analysis process, we were prepared to present the new Comprehensive Plan next year. Unfortunately, the funding to complete the Comprehensive Plan was eliminated in alternative budget. The Comptroller and City Council clearly don?t see the big picture. The lack of proper planning and vision will set this city back decades.

    As we move forward, my administration will look to further reduce these costs by outsourcing functions such as payroll, examining our health care benefits options and maximizing technology to promote efficiency. We have made great strides towards moving our city forward and easing the tax burden. The New Year will bring many hardships, but my administration will continue to work hard on behalf of the citizens of this great city.

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  19. libraryfriends on

    The major oppositions to a well functioning library, according to the mayor, is the comptroller and the city council. They need to see the real needs of the people, requirement of public employee legislations and the true status of our Mount Vernon City budget.

  20. Community Activist on

    Here’s how I see it: Have you looked at the mayor’s budget? The funds going to the library are all going to political appointee jobs.

    This isn’t the comptroller. The comptroller doesn’t write the budget. Even if the library owes the city money in some weird, not understandable arrangement, the city has to fund the library enough to pay that debt. If the library gets $4.1 million, which it needs, that’s a decision from others. The comptroller could recommend a lower amount, but the reality of the situation is that $3.5 million was the amount recommended by the mayor.

    So friends of the library, the moral of the story is: If you want a functioning library, you have to bribe the most corrupt politicians you can find in the city. How many Horton family members do we need in government, incidentally? Or the fact Mary Young is making a sweet salary and is the sister of the mayor? Am I the only one who has a problem with this?

    But there’s more:

    The library board of trustees is packed with idiots. I’m saying this in the hope that Millie Burns reads this and starts questioning things. We have a director making excessive amounts of money. This would not be inherently a bad thing if we got anything good for it. And its true that library circulation numbers are up.

    However, if you talk to the regular staff as well as most patrons who deal with the staff, they hate her. Why? No one is actually sure what she does. For instance, assuming the library closes, does she still get paid? But who is she administering? The idea that the director can keep a full salary if the library closes is ridiculous. 5% of the library budget down the drain.

    On top of that, rumor has circulated for some time around the city that she hasn’t shown up to key meetings with the city. She is not an effective advocate for the library. Nor does she write grants-she’s not an effective fundraiser. I’m not sure she proposes budgets but I doubt it. All and all, the director is an overpaid staff member who is ineffective at best. And the board of trustees never seems to understand that. Rather, they simply get entrenched that she’s doing a good job. It makes absolutely no sense to any outside observer. 5% of the library budget on someone who is ineffective. The fact that massive layoffs are happening twice under her watch-even if they are legitimately not her fault-should be enough to say she couldn’t maintain the level of services and should take a big haircut if not outright layoff for failing.

    For what its worth, the union doesn’t seem to be doing a good job advocating for its workers. Talking about corruption in Yonkers-yes, there should be audits-but the extreme personal attacks on the administration do not serve the interests of the community (and without community support, who needs you?). If you have something substantial on “Opal” that is “BS” use it. Otherwise, shut up and lobby effectively. If the board of trustees can be so dumb despite having so many supposedly intelligent people on it and elites, clearly you’re not waking them up to reality. Opal is a failure and needs to go-what about the union president, who has failed to protect library jobs in this environment? When facing two layoffs-one of which was solved by the intervention of the Comptroller (not the mayor, not the council but the Comptroller whom the board of trustees is so quick to trash in their open letter as well as library friends)-what has the union done? Answer: Sit back and let people get laid off and complain about the director. Congrats-the strategy worked, and now my library’s going to wimper for a few months before it gets shut down as a disgrace. Or maybe the board and Opal’s incompetency will pay off and someone with power will take sympathy on the library.

    I wonder who that great benefactor would be. Great Andy C.’s ghost?

  21. libraryfriends on

    Legal actions or political pressure don’t bring about true cooperations or appreciations of the library staff as well as a good understanding of the modern library standards or requirements for the establishment of a good library.
    Hopefully, all parties will come to a realization soon for the sake of the community and the staff who has served them for so long.

  22. libraryfriends on

    The community should urge the authorities must become more public minded and staff supportive. They must step up to stop this disgrace from continuing and exasperating to the point of library services and program and environment below standard.

  23. Questionables Practices on

    Look at who the union is interacting with. The Board of Directors has hired Jackson Lewis and spent over $150,000 per year during the last three years fighting the union. An open wallet to pour legal expenses into. This is where a lot of the money has gone. There is no peace. The cost of the year end layoffs of staff is very close to the amount of money spent in legal issues between the administration and union. There is no way to determine exactly what the union is doing because most of it is behind closed doors in the courts or in mediation with the city paying the tab for Jackson Lewis.

  24. Come to the budget meeting tomorrow and let the city administration and mayor know that the Mount Vernon Public Library is much valued. The appropriate funding for the MVPL is supported by the community and protected by Information Act and Public Library Law in New York with respect to standards of staff level. Send the urgent messages that we need to reverse the demotion and layoffs.