Daily Archives: April 15, 2011

>Many Questions Remain; Middletown’s Library Surplus Issue Far From Settled And Could Be Derailed

>There was another Middletown Library Board meeting this past Wednesday night and if you weren’t there to witness the goings on you missed a lot. Evidently many questions arose over the the time table for which the Township Committee expects to be paid the $500,000 that it practically extorted form the library in order to fill a budget gap in it’s own 2011 budget, and what was required by the State Librarian before those dollars could be legally transferred.

If it weren’t for the lone member of the public who attended this meeting( that’s correct, no one else other that then Board members were in attendance), Linda Baum, no one would know that there is a problem brewing over these funds once again.

According to the NJ State Librarian, before surplus funds can be transferred from the Middletown Library to the Township Committee, a strategic plan must be prepared. The plan would need to include a number of focus group opinions, which would take time to complete. Only after this was all completed, could the plan to transfer funds from the library to the township be completed. Library Director Susan O’Neal estimated that it would take until August to complete.

Of course this did not sit very well with Township Commiteeman Kevin Settembrino, who was appointed to the Library Board by the mayor. Settembrino wanted the transfer of funds to take place with in four weeks so that the the Township’s budget could be finalized.

Ms. Baum took minutes of the meeting for herself and passed them along to me to share:

The library mtg ran three hours. Got heated in parts. The number of people in the audience including me: One. Here are the main points:

There are certain requirements the library must meet before the state librarian will approve the giveback. Formation of a strategic plan is required, and focus groups are a required part. Ms. O’Neal estimated an August 2011 completion date for both. Mr. Settembrino didn’t like that at all — he felt it would delay finalization of the town’s budget. They discussed hiring a professional to conduct the groups at a cost of $3K max. A resolution to that effect was voted down 3-2. Some felt it could be done by library staff, while others felt staff lacked the time and that focus group participants would not be comfortable with library staff leading the groups. A few didn’t want to spend money to give away money. Ms. Breen asked Kevin if the town would pay for it since they gain from it. He declined of course. Issues were cost, whether they could get community participation, and whether or not there was a need for new focus groups or if existing data could be used — a survey was done in 2004. Mr. Settembrino proposed using the 2004 survey results to produce the focus group report for inclusion in the new strategic plan. A resolution to do it internally was passed 3-2. Mr. Settembrino revisited the timeline and asked for completion in 4 weeks. Ms. O’Neal said the end of May would be more achievable. Mr. Milne questioned if, by doing the focus groups themselves and/or by utilizing data already in hand, the library would be at risk of not getting the approval from the state librarian. (Let’s hope so.) They don’t know how much leeway they have.

(I thought of a few good ideas to simplify and speed the process, but I realized whose side I was on and kept quiet.)

It got heated when Mr. Settembrino scoffed about library employees resistance to doing the extra work in light of their recent raises (you know, the one dollar per week). Wendy Latona let him have it. She brought up the $15,000 stipend.

The next issue was about the 2009 audit results. Discussion was specifically about around $88K in library money that was left on the table but not known about in February. Kevin asked if this would affect the decision on the giveback. The board felt the issue was handled and would not affect the giveback. Ms. O’Neal said she had not yet talked with Nick Trasente, and wanted to address 2009 as well as 2010 issues. I got a little confused here. I asked if the board’s concern about the audit related to just the $88k issue. Yes, they said. I said that I had reviewed the corrective action plan and felt much was not addressed. I asked them to consider revisiting the giveback decision as new information comes to light.

Mr. Settembrino asked when the preliminary 2012 budget comes out. Ms. O’Neal said the draft budget (in the range of $3.5M) is done in October when the official rateables comes out. Settembrino pushed to get it earlier, saying the rateables is out now. Susan said she is required to use the official figure released in October. Kevin said he felt leaving the initial release till October didn’t leave enough time to review or make changes as needed, or whatever. Ms. O’Neal replied, “Duly noted.” I don’t know if there was any offer to meet an earlier target. Ms. Breen complimented Susan on being a great director and told Kevin it seemed like he was scolding.

There were other topics discussed relating to library spending for travel and repairs. The Lincroft branch has termite damage in the entryway.

Coverage or lack thereof for underground storage tanks was touched upon. Property coverage for the library is included under the town’s policy, which is an excess policy. Kevin will check into coverage.

There was a resolution to allot more money to the library’s attorney, whose fees ran over due to the recent funding battle. It passed.

Minutes from the 2/16 and 3/16 mtgs were adopted. I have a printed copy of minutes from 2/16 – 19 pages. I didn’t get a copy of the 3/16 minutes, but will ask Wendy for it.

Feel free to distribute.

Linda

I’ll be posting more about this over the next couple of days.

Things here just don’t seem right to me and if Settmebrino or the rest of those on the Township Committee wanted their money right away, then I think they should have done their homework properly to find out if there would be potential problems. But like so much that those that run Middletown do, this attempt to wrestle funds from the Library was done haphazardly and with authoritarian zeal without knowing the consequences of their actions.

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Filed under Board of Trustees, Kevin Settembrino, Middletown Library, Middletown NJ, Middletown Township Committee, NJ State Library, reserved funds, State Librarian, surplus funds, Susan O'Neal