January 18th meeting of the Middletown Library Board sets the tone for the year. The Demands, the Numbers, and the Possibilities Part 2

by guest blogger Linda Baum

This is part 2 of my 3-part post on happenings at the 1/18/12 meeting of the Library Board. A reminder that the next Library Board meeting is this Wednesday, February 15th at 7:30 p.m.

LAWN CARE AND SNOW & ICE MANAGEMENT

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen figures tossed around on this topic. Here’s the story:

Committeewoman Stephanie Murray questioned the outsourcing of lawn care and snow removal. She asked why the Township couldn’t do this and was advised that DPW had been contacted but felt they couldn’t provide adequate services. DPW Director Ted Maloney had said to revisit the matter with DPW upon contract expiration.

“Lawn care” includes a great deal more than mowing. It also covers pruning, weeding, fertilizing, seeding, insect control, debris removal and more.

Land care and snow & ice management are grouped together as one line item on the budget, but are two separate contracts. The contract for land care is for one year only. Snow & ice management is a 2-year contract that runs through April 2013. The Board usually opts for a 2-year contract for ice and snow removal for two reasons: 1) as a hedge against increases in contract cost when the price of gasoline goes up, and 2) it helps to have a contractor in place well in advance to cover the late December/early January period.

For 2012, the budgeted amount is $30,000. In 2011, the contract for landscaping was $9,000. The Library paid the contractor an additional $1,700 for new trees in the front, which was approved as part of the job specifications. For snow removal in 2011, the Library paid $10,953. In all, these expenses were $21,653. The cost for land care is a fixed amount, however it is necessary to budget conservatively for snow & ice management in line with variations in snow fall and contract cost based on the proposal awarded. The 2012 budget for these services is the same as for 2011. In a low snow year, they make out okay.

Ms. O’Neal provided a brief history, noting that when the Library was renovated in 2003/2004, the Township Committee wanted a sprinkler system installed and extensive landscaping in order to enhance the value of the property. Once that was done, the members of the Board felt that proper stewardship of the property required the land care services of a private company because the services of the Township were not adequate.

The Library has special needs given its hours of operation and 7-day schedule, and the Township was not able to make the Library a priority given its other commitments. This is true not only for snow removal, but also for property maintenance. Consider if you have ever seen work being done on the Library grounds during its operating hours. I haven’t. Work appears to be done before or after the public arrives, so that we can enjoy the serenity and quiet that libraries are so well known for.

When it snows, the Township is going to clear snow from streets first so that ambulances can get to homes and people to hospitals. Nobody lives at the Library, so it may be very low on the list.

During public comments, one woman commented on how quickly snow is removed now, so that the Library can be enjoyed by the public. Another resident said “This works” and encouraged the new Board to be slow to change.

In fairness, I should note that when there are particularly heavy snow storms like those of last winter, the Library may need help from the Township’s heavy duty plows to clear its premises.

Several of the new Board members – Brock Siebert, Michael Convery, and Ms. Murray – were insistent that the issue of land care and snow removal be re-opened with the Township and suggested that the Library “make” the Township handle this. They didn’t say how they expected the Board to do that, or how to ensure that the current high standard of service is met.

Ms. O’Neal pointed out that many Libraries that have snow and land maintenance handled by the municipality get charge-backs for those services, so “the elephant in the room” is that one way or another the Library pays the cost for these services.

MY PREDICTION: Snow removal and land care services will be handled by the Township upon contract expiration, or sooner, and the Library will not be billed. I say “or sooner” because the new Trustees are insistent that the matter be re-opened with the Township now, so it appears they are willing to cancel the contract and deal with any ramifications.

THE NUMBERS: The Library’s budget will be cut by $30,000. That increases the “take” by the Township by up to $36,000 given the combined effect of both the increase in surplus and the reduction in the budget, as described in part 1 of this post.

Why do I think the Township won’t bill the Library for these services? Because if they do, there would be no reduction to the Library’s budget, and the Township makes out the same or better if there is.

By not charging the library, the Township gets to look like the good guy, something I’m sure they will work into press releases. But, of course, they will make no reference to any slip in service quality or any extra costs the Library may incur to replace plants and trees that are not properly cared for. Nor will they mention the unusual sound of lawn equipment blaring while you’re reading.

STRATEGY: If the Township makes out the same or better by not charging the Library, then the Library might fare better if it pays the Township for these services – that is, more reserves might be protected this way. So perhaps the Library Board should offer to pay…

THE LIBRARY’S WEBSITE

New board member Lawrence Nelsen criticized the Library’s website, saying that many links don’t work. Check it out for yourself here (www.mtpl.org) and see what you think. Be prepared to have some fun – the Library’s website is cool, colorful, and informative.

I wonder if Mr. Nelsen has noticed that several calendar links on the Township’s website bring up the month of March 2011, a problem the Township has known about for months and still hasn’t fixed. And meeting dates on the Township’s online calendar are often incorrect. There are numerous examples from December: the Sewerage Authority board meeting was not on December 8th, the Zoning Board meeting was not on December 26th, and the Library Board meeting was not on December 21st. The latter date was correct on the Library’s website, though.

Ms. O’Neal replied to Mr. Nelsen that the Library doesn’t have a dedicated web person because the staff person who handles that has other duties, but she said that problems are fixed as quickly as possible once they are discovered.

MY PREDICTION: I have a very strong feeling that Mr. Nelsen’s out-of-the-blue comment was intended to start a discussion about the Township’s takeover of Library website maintenance and maybe other Library systems. That could possibly mean layoffs of library staff.

THE NUMBERS: I am told that the Township contracts out its website maintenance. If that’s true, the contractor would likely charge extra to handle more work. The Township might bill the Library for it, but might make out better if they don’t, as I’ve already pointed out.

Much like the other services the Library requires, the Township’s ability to take on this additional responsibility won’t matter. This is all about cutting as much from the Library budget as possible. Promises will be made, and problems will be dealt with down the road.

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Filed under Board of Trustees, budget cuts, lawn care, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, snow removal, Stephanie Murray, Susan O'Neal

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