Category Archives: budget cuts

January 18th meeting of the Middletown Library Board sets the tone for the year. The Demands, the Numbers, and the Possibilities Part 3

by guest blogger Linda Baum

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

PURCHASING RESOLUTIONS — SERVICE CONTRACT FOR LIBRARY ATTORNEY

New Board member Michael Convery, an attorney, had many questions about the legality of resolutions and whether or not there was a need to bid out contracts. Ms. O’Neal noted that libraries have a statutory exemption from purchasing laws for books and materials. “Where is the list of exempt services?,” he asked. In the statute, he was told.

Mr. Convery suggested having an attorney sign off on resolutions and the vendor list. Ms. Murray went a step further and suggested that an attorney be present at all Board meetings. The new Township appointees agreed.

Those in the audience whispered, “Didn’t they want to reduce expenses???”

The other Board members felt that there was little need to have an attorney sit in on regular meetings – one could always be consulted if an opinion was needed.

Some background: While “major” boards, such as the Planning Board, may have a lawyer present at each meeting due to the nature of their work, “minor” boards, such as the Historical Commission, do not. The Library Board used to have an attorney at meetings at one time, but there was little need in view of the low hazard operation, and the regular attendance of a lawyer was eliminated.

Vivian Breen suggested, somewhat facetiously, that they seek pro-bono services – maybe attorney and former Board member Gregory Milne would be willing to donate his time. There was no response from the new trustees. (That was also how things went at the Township Committee meeting the night before when residents offered their free services to renovate the pool club. That offer fell on dead ears, too.)

When it was time to award the contract for attorney services, experience in library law took a back seat to hourly fee, office location, and labor law experience.

In my 1/9/12 post, “Attorney representing TOMSA and the Township also seeks appointment as Library Attorney at the January 18th Meeting of the Library Board”, I mentioned that experience in library law was a requirement for the job, or at least had been considered important in the past.

The new Township appointees didn’t feel knowledge of library law was necessary. Mr. Convery was particularly insistent about that, seeming to ignore that all of his earlier questions required response from someone with an understanding of the statute. He and others felt that an interpretation of the library law could be provided by any attorney. Labor law experience was seen as more important.

While applicants without library law experience had lower fees, Mr. Gabrielan pointed out that they might bill significantly more hours while they are getting up to speed on matters an experienced attorney would already know.

Ms. O’Neal suggested that the Board might lower its costs by issuing a new RFP to hire an attorney on a retainer. The new Board members declined to do that for now, opting instead to pay by the hour in case the Board decides at a later date that attorney attendance at meetings is not necessary, or at least that was a reason given. (I found it odd that the new Township appointees, after having shown uniform support to have an attorney at meetings, wouldn’t opt for a less costly fee arrangement and wanted wiggle room to change their minds about attorney attendance. That is surprising considering how critical they were of the Board, and its president in particular, for not having had an attorney at meetings in the past.)

Attorney Richard Leahey’s local office was touted as a plus by the new trustees, who pointed out that it would mean fewer hours billed for travel time to Board meetings. (I wondered if the push to have an attorney at meetings was in part so that they could make a stronger case to keep the contract local…)

Leahey lacks library experience, but his rate was among the two lowest, matched by McOmber & McOmber, P.C., also local and lacking in library experience. While the two candidates seemed “neck and neck” for a while, the service award went to R. Armen McOmber, whose application indicated he would provide service personally. Mr. Leahey’s work for the Township was mentioned as a possible conflict and factored into the Board’s decision.

The Library’s budget was amended to increase the amount budgeted for attorney services from $4,000 to $10,000, in part to account for the fact that this is a labor contract negotiation year.

THE BY-LAWS

On the agenda was the formation of an Ad-hoc By-laws Review Committee to update the by-laws for the increase in the Board’s membership.

Mr. Convery was very critical of the by-laws. He called them “terrible” but wasn’t specific. I don’t have a lot of patience for such vague criticism and look forward to hearing what specific changes he feels are necessary, and who will benefit

Mr. Gabrielan explained that the by-laws, which were last revised ten years ago, were simple by design and, while needing update in a few areas, met the needs of this type of operation.

(Add by-laws review to the list of things this year’s legal counsel will be billing for. I wonder if the $10,000 budget will be enough.)

PURCHASING RESOLUTIONS — BOOKS & MATERIALS

There were numerous purchasing resolutions on the January agenda, and that’s normal. The Library’s ongoing operation requires purchasing year-round. Ms. O’Neal noted that there are seasons of publishing – different items are ordered at different times of year — and that the Board reserves money at the end of the calendar year to allow for that.

Ms. O’Neal said that vendors have specialties in terms of what they provide, so different materials are ordered from different vendors, all of which were selected for their preferential discount schedules. She also noted that the Library has people who specialize in knowing what materials are required for specific subject areas.

The new Township appointees were hesitant to approve the purchases, one of which was an order of about $200K from the Library’s primary vendor. They had questions about how to review the orders and accounting. And that’s reasonable – they are new to this and there is a lot to know. The Board discussed training that would be available so that the new members could familiarize themselves with Library operations.

To me, the new Township appointees seemed conflicted between the need for continuity of Library operations and their apparent charge to cut the budget.

Mr. Gabrielan pointed out that these were pro-forma resolutions that the Board passes annually as part of normal operations for all New Jersey libraries, and he asked that the new members trust management and the other more experienced Board members.

The response from the new Township appointees was a blunt, “No.” And then they brought up Mr. Gabrielan’s books and then the accusations flew. They said, no one’s accusing anyone of anything, but…

Vivian Breen raised her voice, “This library has not been a problem. You’re
making this a problem, and it isn’t.”

Lawrence Nelsen harped, “No one had a problem with Bernie Madoff, either.” Audience members gasped.

“That’s totally different,” replied Ms. Breen, with restraint, considering.

Ms. Murray said, “We don’t feel there is a problem, but I don’t think it’s fair to invalidate our opinions because we don’t feel more comfortable.”

“But you’re invalidating what we’ve been doing for years,” said Ms. Breen, her voice elevated

.

Ms. Miloscia said that not everything needed to be ordered in February, but that they needed to start ordering. “Otherwise, you’re going to paralyze the Library,” she said.

Ms. Breen offered an analogy: “If you bought a supermarket, and you took over as boss, you would have to [continue]…purchasing cans to stock shelves until you figured out what was going on or you would go out of business.”

After discussion, the purchase resolutions were approved by the full Board.

For comparison, consider that the Township’s January bill list was approved by unanimous vote, and without any public discussion, by the Township Committee on January 17th, Ms. Murray’s first regular meeting as Committeewoman.

Note also that at the TOMSA Board’s February 9th meeting, a no-bid $343K engineering contract was approved without comment by the Board, who, coincidentally, voted at that meeting to approve their own salaries, a perk no other board in town gets. No other board in town gets the free medical benefits or pension credits either. Perhaps Mr. Nelsen should take a look over there.

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Filed under board attorney, Board of Trustees, budget cuts, by-laws, Lawrence Nelsen, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, service contracts, Stephanie Murray, Susan O'Neal

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

Lautenberg, Menendez, Pallone Call on President to Reconsider Plan to Close NOAA Sandy Hook Lab

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 14, 2012

WASHINGTON—One day after the Obama Administration released a budget plan that eliminates funding for the fisheries lab at Sandy Hook, U.S. Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), today called on the President to reconsider his decision to close the lab. The members vowed to work through the Congressional appropriations process to restore funding for this successful research facility.

“Today, the research that is performed at the NOAA lab produces vital information on marine species that serves as a foundation for our economy and jobs across the region,” the Congress members wrote to President Obama. “We will work to prevent the closure of this facility during the upcoming appropriations process and we ask that you reconsider your position. The NOAA laboratory at Sandy Hook is a vital facility and maintaining it will allow the important scientific research that is performed in one of the country’s most unique and biologically diverse environments to continue.”

A copy of the letter’s text is below:

February 14, 2012

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing to express our strong opposition to the proposal in your Fiscal Year 2013 Budget to close the NOAA Fisheries Service James J. Howard Marine Sciences Laboratory at Sandy Hook, New Jersey. The closure of this lab would have a negative impact on NOAA’s ability to carry out its mission and damage progress that has been made in fisheries-based scientific research.

The NOAA laboratory, dedicated in September 1961, was the first federal scientific laboratory devoted solely to research on marine recreational species. The opening of this lab reflected the importance of acquiring scientific information to support the sustainability of marine resources that are greatly important to coastal communities. Today, the research that is performed at the NOAA lab produces vital information on marine species that serves as a foundation for our economy and jobs across the region.

The NOAA laboratory at Sandy Hook performs critical research that not only supports New Jersey marine habitats, but also provides greater insight into the issues our nation faces in maintaining a clean and sustainable ocean environment. The decision to close the NOAA laboratory will put all of this critical research at risk and limit our understanding of how we can best protect the ocean environment and the ocean-based economy.

This past September, NOAA staff including Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries Eric Schwaab celebrated 50 years of important achievements made at the NOAA laboratory at Sandy Hook. Now, just a few short months later, your budget proposes to put an end to the important work that is done at the lab.

We will work to prevent the closure of this facility during the upcoming appropriations process and we ask that you reconsider your position. The NOAA laboratory at Sandy Hook is a vital facility and maintaining it will allow the important scientific research that is performed in one of the country’s most unique and biologically diverse environments to continue.

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Filed under budget cuts, Congressman Frank Pallone, fisheries, NOAA labs, President Obama, Sandy Hook, US. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, US. Sen. Robert Menendez

More Audio From Tuesday Night’s Township Committee Meeting; "What about the kids?"

I have a few more audio clips from last Tuesday night’s Township Committee meeting to post concerning the Middletown Swim and Tennis Club.

In this clip you can hear a young lady addressing the Township Committee during public comments and asking them, in light of all the budget cuts enacted by the State and local government when will someone ask the question “what about the kids ?”

http://www.archive.org/embed/SwimClubMembersAddressTownshipCommittee4WhatAboutTheKids

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Filed under budget cuts, Middletown Swim and Tennis Club, Middletown Township Committee, public comments, what about the kids

Pallone Renews Commitment to College Affordability, Protecting Pell Grant Loan Funding


Long Branch, N.J. – Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. Monday will speak with Rutgers students during a roundtable discussion regarding their concerns about federal support for improving college affordability and the ongoing threat the Republican majority poses to funding federal Pell Grant loans. New Jersey students are concerned about college debt and the availability of federal Pell Grants, which for many, are the only way they are able to attend college.

During the recent debate to raise the debt ceiling in July, Republicans offered Pell Grant cuts as a way to cut the budget. These cuts were averted but as the Super Committee convenes to discuss budget cuts, Pell Grant funding may again be on the table.

WHO: Congressman Pallone will host a roundtable discussion soliciting input from Rutgers students and student organizations

WHEN: 11:00 a.m. Monday, September 12, 2011

WHERE: Rutgers Student Center
126 College Avenue, New Brunswick
Main Lounge (Across from Multi-Purpose Room)

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Filed under budget cuts, college education, Congressman Frank Pallone, media advisory, pell grants, Rutgers University, student loans, super committee

President Obama’s Weekly Address 7/23/11: A Bipartisan Approach to Strengthening the Economy

WASHINGTON– In this week’s address, President Obama discussed the urgency of Democrats and Republicans coming together to take a balanced approach to cutting the deficit to strengthen our economy and leave for our children a more secure future.

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Filed under bipartisanship, budget cuts, debt limit, economy, President Obama, weekly address

As A Matter Of Fact…1 in 6 New Jerseyans hit By Governor’s vetoes


From July 11th, 2011 | Published in NJPP Blog: As a Matter of Fact …

By Raymond J. Castro, Senior Policy Analyst

One in six New Jerseyans will be adversely affected by line-item vetoes of two critical programs in the budget Governor Christie signed last week.

Today, the state Senate is expected to vote on restoring funding for those programs – the state Earned Income Tax Credit and NJ Family Care. Doing so, however, will require bipartisan support in order to achieve two-thirds majority.

The governor’s vetoes represented unprecedented cutbacks in state services and will affect more than 1.5 million residents, mostly low-income working families with children. Without these supports many parents will be unable to continue to work in low and moderate wage jobs that support their children in a state with one of the highest costs of living in the nation.

Last week the Legislature passed a state budget that fully funded these program. However the governor in New Jersey has considerably more power than governors in many states and has the discretion to delete any funds proposed for specific programs – or any “line item” in the budget. The only way that those funds can be restored is for the Legislature to vote to overturn each veto with a two-thirds vote.

When voting on each line-item, it will be important that legislators know what the impact is on people in their districts. New Jersey Policy Perspective has created an analysis to show the number of people, county by county, who will be affected by these two line item vetos, which were among dozens of vetoes by the governor.

Budgets reflect a state’s priorities. The public does not always know where individual legislators stand on those priorities because the budget is usually voted on in its entirety. That will all change today, and we hope that each lawmaker, regardless of party, recognizes just how devastating these cuts can be to wide numbers of New Jerseyans.

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Filed under As a Matter of Fact, budget cuts, children, Earned Income Tax Credit, Gov. Chris Christie, line item veto, low income families, New Jersey Policy Perspective, NJ FamilyCare, working poor