Monday, November 28, 2011

The $500,000 Raid On The Middletown Library Won’t Be The Last

The Township Committee adds two additional Library Board members, sets the stage for majority control in 2012.

by guest blogger Linda Baum

A couple of months back, there was a rumor that the Township Committee intended to appoint two additional members to the Middletown Library Board, bringing the number of Board members from 7 to 9. (By comparison, keep in mind that the Township Committee consists of just 5 people.)

As it turns out, the rumor is true. At the Township Committee’s November 21, 2011 meeting, Ordinance 2011-3048 was introduced to add two new Library trustees. A public hearing on the Ordinance will be held at the Town Committee’s regular meeting on Monday, December 19, 2011 at 8:00 p.m.

Two of the existing Board members, Mr. Milne and Ms. Raymond, are up for re-appointment at year end, and another Board member was already booted and replaced with Committeeman Settembrino at the start of this year. Add to those three spots the two new ones, and that’s a 5-4 majority to do the Town Committee’s bidding. So it would seem our mayor and his fellow Town Committee members have no intention of stopping at half a million.

As many of you know, I regularly attend the Library Board meetings and have since February of this year. I’m the only member of the public who regularly attends. If the woman who frequented Board of Education meetings was seen as the natural pick for that Board, I figure that makes me the front runner for one of the two new spots on the Library Board, right??? So I am submitting to the Town my application for Library Board membership, a futile effort since I am not likely to be appointed. My guess is that the two new appointees, or likely four if Mr. Milne and Ms. Raymond are replaced, will be members of the Republican Party faithful who are already serving on one or more other boards or commissions. I guess we’ll find out on Township Reorganization Day.

To understand what these changes could mean, let me recap a little history. In a taxpayer-funded play in 2010, Township attorney Brian Nelson succeeded in having New Jersey law changed to require our municipal public library to relinquish to the Township a significant portion of its surplus. (Previously, the law allowed for the transfer of funds but there was no requirement.) Now, the Library can keep some surplus -- an amount no more than 20% above the prior year’s budget -- but has to fork over the rest, with some exceptions. Some Library monies are protected under the law and are not considered surplus, such as restricted reserves for capital projects.

You may recall that of the $500K taken from the Library this year, half was restricted reserves that the Township was not entitled to legally. That’s one of the reasons such a battle erupted. The Library trustees were out-maneuvered from the start and in the end most felt obligated to pay the full $500,000. It was not without recognizing the precarious financial condition it left the Library in.

Faced with the substantial reduction in funding, the combined result of the $500K raid and an overall revenue decline in line with lower assessments, the Library trustees have been diligent this year about reducing costs where feasible without disruption to services. However, success in reducing the operating budget also has the effect of reducing the amount of surplus that can be retained (20% of the budget), leaving more on the table to be taken by the Township. In addition, the trustees have had to balance the need to set aside reserves – for unexpected expenses or to compensate for annual fluctuations in revenue – against what they stand to lose. The greater the reserve, the more the Township can take.

At its November 16th meeting, the Library Board discussed moving $122,000 to the capital fund to save for the parking lot expansion. Restricting a portion of the reserves for capital projects is supposed to protect the money from seizure by the Township. It won’t. The Library Board need only vote to unrestrict the funds, as was done this year. While the current Board is not likely to do that a second time, the newly re-structured 9-member Board might, and the Town Committee can ensure that it will by appointing the “right” people to the Board.

Sadly, the result may be a Library Board that fails to act in the best interests of the Library.


30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Am I reading this correctly? Are politicians allowed to sit on a library Board of Directors? Is the TC so desparate that they'll hijack a library for so little money? How low can they go?

Middletown Mike said...

Anon,

Yes you've read it correctly. The Republicans of Middletown have planned to hijack the Library Board and it is legal to do so.

You can read the ordinance, it is contained within the It's Your Town Newsletter which is linked to in my previous post.

http://middletownmike.blogspot.com/2011/11/its-your-town-newsletter-volume-3-issue.html

Anonymous said...

Expansion of the parking lot was initially to accommodate those participants in the many wonderful programs there. The township isn't paying for programming services anymore, so they will have to be cut. Our library has always been the gem of our town, and we're watching it be chipped away at. Their personnel they have due to established services will have to have their positions cut, and the township doesn't understand that. One person's operating expenses is another's capital expenses. The library's allowed to accumulate monies for capital projects, but the township republican majority and their appointees can just undesignate the monies.

Legion said...

Once again Linda goes off on a flight of fancy, but this time Mikey joins her...

Linda (and Anon at 3:54) fail to note that two seats on the Library Board are designated for the Mayor and the School Superintendent or their appointed representatives. (That's at least one politician Anon!) Linda's claim that a member was removed to place Mr. Settembrino is just plain wrong. Both the Mayor and the Superintendent can serve on the Board or they can appoint a representative of their choice one year at a time.

Mike, how can the TC "hijack" a Board that it appoints? They are simply exercising their rights under the law to establish and appoint members to the Library Board - how is that "hijacking?"

Perhaps there has been something in the way the Library Board has been acting - out of control spending while taxpayers are crying for relief, perhaps? - that has caused the TC to consider these steps. You'd have to ask them, that's just a guess on my part, but the Board serves at the pleasure of the TC after their terms are up, period.

The Library has been and will continue to be one of the gems of our town, but clearly the TC feels some additional viewpoints need to be represented on the Board, and that's their job under the law.

What's your gripe, Mike?

Middletown Mike said...

legion,

The TC did not reappoint a board trustee last year instead choosing to exercise the mayor's right to appoint a representative of the TC to the Library Board, thus the appointment of Kevin Sentembrino.

Now the TC will appoint another choice of the "Mayor" along with representative of the Superintendent of Schools?

Kevin Sentembrino is already the mayor's alternate and Rachel Raymond is the School Superintendents representative, so why the need to appoint 2 more board memebers unless you wish to make it easier to get at the library's money the next time the TC needs to balance its books?

Linda Baum is spot on in her assessment of the situation, maybe you could learn a few things on this topic if only you attended one of the library board meetings yourself like Ms. Baum has

Anonymous said...

I'm sure that false claims of irresponsible spending by the Library will be the battle cry of the Town Committee even as they themselves offer no answers for their own actions and spending. The Library was villainized this year and it will certainly happen again.

Anonymous said...

Force out an outstanding principal based on lies of political hacks, raid the public library-no family that values education and academic excellence wants to live in Middletown. A lousy housing market is the only thing keeping many of us with children in the public schools from fleeing this corrupt town.

Legion said...

Linda is a great example of how someone can attend meetings and not learn anything.

The Mayor's rep and the Super's rep are appointed to one year terms. It should be no surprise if they change year after year.

Why add two more? You'll have to ask the TC, but having more input is always a good thing, right?

Anonymous said...

I liked how what'stheirnames campaigned on keeping politics out of the library but yet had a Meet the Democrats night at the library. No wonder $4k Linda is so passionate about the library.

Middletown Mike said...

Legion,

It depends on who is giving the input and who's interests they are looking out for.

And BTW, when was the last Township meeting(any meeting) you have attended?

Middletown Mike said...

Anon 8:46,

The reason why the Democrats had a Meet and Greet at the Library was because the room was free and it was a venue where "ordinary" residents attend regularly.

I suppose Tony Fiore decided to hold office hours at the Library because he wanted to keep politics out of the Library issue as well ? I think not.

I think the local Republicans didn't want to be one -upped by Grenafege and Fowler so decided that it would be a good excuse to hold court in the lobby for 3 consecutive weeks before the election.

Linda Baum said...

A correction/clarification. In my count of 4 Board positions up for appointment, I failed to include the spot now held by Committeeman Settembrino, the mayor's alternate, which is a one-year appointment as has been mentioned here. So that's 5 spots not 4. I didn't count the 5th spot because I figured Mr. Settembrino would be re-appointed or else replaced with someone who would vote the same. Appointments for the other four spots are the ones that will change the make-up of the Board. However, there will be five names, not four, on the list of Library Board appointments on Reorganization Day.

Anonymous said...

Moral decay has taken a strong hold on the Tc and now those thugs want to control the only good thing left in this community,it's library.

They have already taken over the school system,contrary to the law,it's members are SUPPOSED to be non-political. Now a rumored new appointee to the BOE is the very political hack from that family you speak of Anon 1:08 a.m.. Truly reeks of the downright disgusting putrid political machine called the Middletown Republicans. Where are they getting such low life from these days.

Peter Carton should be ashamed of what disgraceful tactics his "gang" are capable of.. destroying this town which was once a great place to live. Now it's only good for the snakes and the scum who perpetuate the mob like behavior.

This is government by Carton and Nelson and if you don't like it leave.....seems that used to be Madame Stanley's battle cry."Can't afford to live here.leave".

GOD HELP US ALL !!



We need a revolt by the decent people in this town.Start voting with your heads,not the other "END".

Anonymous said...

Legion

I don't attend library meetings, but you don't have to attend to understand the significance of increasing the members from 7 to 9, and having the mayor of either political party, in this case the Republicans, appoint 2 new members. If the Republican's bid to grab money from the library fund is rejected 4-3, add 2 more members that will vote party lines, and it now goes to a 5-4 vote in favor of the party in power. They can't simply throw people off the library board, that would be to obvious, so instead, they add members, and accomplish the same thing. I agree with Mike, this is just setting up for another raid on the library fund.

Anonymous said...

Look, it's a tough economy out there. Even cronyism is affected so we can't blame the TC for doing whatever they can to create resume enhancement opportunities for their buddies.

Anonymous said...

Few quick questions for all....is this the first time the Republicans are elbowing their way on to the board? If the library had no excess funds would they be there? What is the sudden interest? Being an optimist I believe they just want to observe how a beautiful, fiscally responsible, passionate group of people can run successful programs without 'hijacking' money? I DO believe the word hijacking is appropriate after the $500,000 raid.... Legion. TC is no better than the Somali Pirates that jump aboard an unprotected vessel to take it's valuables.

Anonymous said...

As a local resident I have donated $200 to our beautiful library in both 2009 and 2010. With all of this nonsense going on I have unfortunately found a new charity for this year. Anyone have an idea how we can donate and keep our money out of the TC's hands? It's so sad as I believe I am not the only one who will pull funds back because of this raping.

Legion said...

Is there any member of the Library Board who wasn't appointed by a republican majority Township Committee?

Kind messes with your "hijacking" and "raping" screeds now, doesn't it?

Middletown Mike said...

No, not really Legion,

For years the TC kept a hands off approach when dealing with the Library, often appointing those that were recommended by the the Library itself or the school Superintendent.

When tax dollars got tight over the past couple of years for the TC they started looking elsewhere for revenue, $700K from the SA for example. Because the SA made it so easy for the TC to take surplus funds and the Library was playing hardball, the TC decided (with a little lobbying and help to the state )force/extort money from the Library.

Becasue the trustees of the Library Board did their duty to protect the Middeltown Library system instead of bending over for the TC, making it extremely difficult for the TC to confiscate $500k to balance this years budget, the TC is making sure that it never happens again by appointing trustees that will look out for the TC and not the Library's best interests.

Anonymous said...

Legion...why don't you ponie up the money your TC needs to keep it's fiscal house in order? You seem to know it all. You seem to think it's ok for them to screw up their fiscal responsibilities and take from others.... then you should hand over your 'excess' cash so they can balance their budget. C'mon hand it over. WACKO. Legion agrees with TC because Leigion=crook.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we would be better off if the Monmouth County Library System did take over Middletown's Library System. The alleged crooks or thugs( deducted because of their actions and mob conduct) in this town are of the worst variety...not quite so of the County System and many towns are going that route.

That could possibly reduce taxes and Middletown's TC could not get it's hands on the money. They are stooping to anything for money. GET RID OF THE CRONIES !!

Legion said...

Mike -

You just got the wrong info here.

The School Superintendent is the person who appoints the Superintendent's representative - that's the law.

As far as the TC taking a "hands off" approach and appointing people recommended by the current Library Board - I kind of think that's BS, but I would be willing to see your evidence of that.

I hope you go to the public hearing on this and ask why they are taking this action.

My guess is that it has something to do with frivolous spending when the taxpayers are asking for relief. Perhaps they are over staffing, perhaps they are giving raises that are not in line with what everyone else is getting, perhaps they are spending too much on books, training or out of state conferences, or perhaps it's just that the Board forgot that they represent the taxpayer and not the Library staff...

Should a Library Board return excess funds to the taxpayer? Yes. That's state law.

Should a Township Committee take appropriate actions to ensure a Library Board that it appoints is doing it's job properly?

That's their job!

You don't like it?

Get elected to the TC and you'll have a vote.

Anonymous said...

Legion,

It time for the TC to practice what they preach.

Get rid of the morally bankrupt cronies on the Sewage Authority Board. Get rid of the cronies hired in township government and get new legal help that doesn't lead the Republican Party in this town.

Conflicts of interest...all of them and you can be sure the taxpayer IS NOT their primary concern. It's their own wallets !!

Don't have to be a genius to see how biased you are...every time you open your mouth to defend them, it's plain to see you are ONE OF THEM !

Anonymous said...

Anon, 11-29, 3:47

Library Foundation monies are protected. They are not considered surplus. Those contributions cannot be taken by the township.

Anonymous said...

Legion,

The Board of Education, like the Town, is republican controlled. It is naive to think that there could be no coordination toward an objective, or that the BOE members would not wield some influence with the Superintendent.

And what would be the point of asking the Town Committee what their objective is? Do you think they are going to admit a plan to raid funds? I’m sure they will spew the same accusations you tout. It doesn’t matter if there is any truth to them because that’s not the point. The point is to rally support for the raid and to paint the Library as the villain once again.

Yes, it is now state law for free public libraries to remit part of their surplus to municipalities. That’s because Brian Nelson had the law changed out of concern for taxpayers. So if he and the Town Committee really felt library spending was so overboard that there was excess taxation, perhaps taxpayers would have been much better served had Mr. Nelson sought a reduction in the state funding formula??? That would have provided real tax relief, if that was really the goal.

So this is about the Town Committee making sure the Library Board is doing a good job, is it? You mean the same Town Committee that has resisted the formation of a finance board to oversee the job the Town is doing???? Sorta hypocritical, don’t ya think? The Library Board discusses all topics in detail in front of the public -- those meetings run hours. The Town Committee never does that and yet feels justified pointing a finger. Again, hypocritical.

Anonymous said...

Legion at 8.25 a.m. on 11/29...

Perhaps what Middletown needs is a ward system of government and an elected mayor because what we have today DOES NOT REPRESENT the 68,000 residents in this community.

Biased and bigoted (against anyone of a different political persuasion) republicans currently and for too many years are the majority .Their attitude is "too hell with the rest of the people...just pay your taxes and shut up".

Sorry,this is the good ole USA and that attitude just reinforces hatred. It corrupts and is corrupt. It's the very attitude that fosters war and strife and there is nothing positive that attitude can claim.

Anonymous said...

I don't get Legion's comments - if the library was "spending out of control," how is it that they had a surplus? Sounds like the library did some planning and saving, something the TC knows nothing about.

Anonymous said...

If the spending is/was out of control, why would the TC approve the spending every month which is in the bill list?

Anonymous said...

Politics in Middletown is a sick,pervasive disease that infects everything !!

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:46 AM,
Mayor Fiore moved his last scheduled three 'meet the mayor' office hours meetings to the library. He set-up shop in the entrance way and couldn't be missed. He normally meets with residents in his office at Town Hall.