Last week, possible Hoboken mayoral candidate Peter Cammarano held a press conference in the Hoboken library to combat any suggestions that the library should be closed as part of budget cuts. He said the suggestion had come in an e-mail sent around by Hoboken taxpayer Donna Antonucci. (See briefs HERE).
Last week, Antonucci responded in a letter to Lina Podles, library director.
My letter (with added comments from our phone conversation) to Lina Podles, Library Director in response to Cammarano's press conference:
I find it interesting that he shared that email with you. It was not sent to the entire city but to the council members.
If it's the email I believe he shared (as there were several back and forth plus some verbal discussion), I hope you realize that my suggestion to close the library was inconjunction with cutting a deal with Steven's to provide library services to Hoboken.
I was not at the press conference, if it was televised I didn't see it. I only read the article about his press conference. I think it's unfortunate that he purposefully omitted the second piece to the concept. I am sure you know that library funding is mandated by statute based on the tax base. If a community has a library, it has to fund the library based on that formula. In the 2008/2009 budget that's over $3.1MM. Because of this law it's either an all or nothing proposition. If a town does not have a library the town does not have to spend anything on a library i.e., a town cannot be forced to have a library but if they do that have to spend that amount.
The League of Municipalities has approached the legislature to change this statute as this funding formula has become burdensome on many municipalities. In part, it's due to the real estate bubble. The relationship between real estate values and library funding needs is now out of proportion. I have a feeling you already know this. Again, the library idea was one of many for consideration. It was part of approximately $40MM in cuts that I suggested we look at. I thought it was a creative way of providing library services at a lower cost considering the crisis that we are in. I thought it demonstrated innovative thinking that I think is lacking at City Hall. I am tired of hearing 'you cannot do that in the public sector'. I don't think anything is beyond examination. Having said this, the library is by no means the most important nor the most easily executable (you'd have to negotiate with Steven's, catalog and transfer relevant volumes, etc.) of the $40MM in cuts I proposed for examination. Focusing on the library out of the proposed cuts is like if a patient arrives at the emergency room with chest pains and the doctor wants to take care of an ear ache first.
I understand that there is a way that the library can give back some of its budget back to the town under the law but we would have to show that the library can provide adequate service with less of the mandatory budget. I understand that Tripodi has mentioned this to you.
There is a lengthy process involved in making that case and as time marches on without cuts we spend more and more of really high expense base. The other items that are more pressing are the union contracts and the level of fringe benefits and lack of financial accountability. If we don't get that right, any cuts at the library won't save us. Having said that, again, nothing is beyond examination for efficiencies and lots of little cuts can add up.
This is not personal. I am not trying to target library workers specifically so they lose their jobs. I looked at in a hierarchy. What is an essential service? What is not? What non-essential services can we do without or provide in a cost effective way? How can we provide essential services at a lower cost? How do we cut waste? I took a lot of phone calls yesterday asking me to comment on his press conference to which he invited me after it already took place.
I don't think I can come to the library but I would be glad to chat with you by phone. If you come to the next city council meeting, I will be there and would love to chat with you. Where can I call you?
PS: HERE is an online petition version of the Union Concession Postcard. You can go here and sign the petition online by providing your name, street address in Hoboken (to qualify you are a Hoboken resident) and email address. (Eight suggestions attached; you can see them by clicking the website.)