>By guest blogger Linda Baum
There were only about twenty attendees at Wednesday’s meeting of the Middletown Library Board, a fraction of the crowd that showed up last month. Aside from Committeeman Settembrino, who is on the Library Board, no one from the Township was there. And the mood was different. It was calm, and everyone was polite. I took that as a bad sign.
A handful of people spoke during the public portion at the start of the meeting.
Jim Grenafege and I had a common message, that the Township has a history of mismanaging tax dollars, either ignoring problems or responding to slowly or inadequately. Add to that a history of nondisclosure and bad financial decisions – bad for the taxpayers, anyway — and it’s no small wonder they are looking for rescue now. My take is that if the Township is looking for a handout, the Town Committee needs to show that they have prudently managed the funds already in their charge. There is much evidence to the contrary, and I will get into all of that another time.
Right off the bat, Board President Gabrielan made a motion to give the town $250,000, half the amount that administrators and attorneys had come up with. Only he and Board VP Milne voted yes on the motion, and it failed 5 to 2.
At least one Board member expressed concern that much time had already been spent on discussion by the administrators and attorneys, who were charged with arriving at a figure. Mr. Gabrielan pointed out that they were not also charged with voting for the Board. Mr. Gabrielan felt the negotiations did not accurately represent facts or address concerns, and said that information could be presented in any manner to achieve a desired result. And with that, the sentiment from the last meeting reared its head.
Other Board members seemed just to want to get this issue behind them and get on with other library business. The Board members felt the need to agree to an amount to the town’s liking in order to be insulated from such attacks for the remainder of 2011 and to protect the library from the threat of transfer to the county system, a threat Mr. Gabrielan noted was without merit.
“Tax relief” was a handy feel-good phrase. It had to be obvious to everyone just how little relief the money would provide. I suspect the Board had an eye to how they would be painted in the press. In fact – if I heard right — a joint press release was part of the negotiated agreement.
There was also considerable concern about the town’s plan to handle the parking lot expansion on behalf of the library as part of the giveback, while still expecting the library to pay the debt service on a bond for the work. The issue, of course, was that the library should not have to pay anything after the giveback, which includes funds that were earmarked for the construction. I am not sure how this was resolved. I think the town backed down, and in the end it was agreed that after the giveback, the library would owe nothing more to the town for the lot construction.
After all was said and done, the Board voted to give just short of $500,000 to the town.
I stayed until the end, just me and two members of the press. There was a second public comment period at that time. I was the lone speaker. I felt the need to point out that the lot construction arrangement was not a good thing for taxpayers because the town would be using the library’s money for some other purpose and then bonding for the construction. That will burden taxpayers with additional unnecessary debt that we would not have had if the library handled the work itself. And it will be yet another reason why the town will be back before the Library Board next year and the year after crying for more money.