Sunday, October 14, 2007

SHOULD THE LIBRARY BE INDEPENDENT OF THE TOWN AND TOWN POLITICS?

The new Greenburgh library will open to the public in the fall of 2008 (possibly earlier). This is the time to consider taking the library out of politics --creating a library district. A library district is approved by the voters. The voters elect the Library Board. The budget of the library is approved by the voters annually. The district would be independent of town government and town officials..
DEFINITION:
As defined by the New York State Library’s Division of Library Development, a public library district is a public library that has a process for (a) publicly electing its trustees; (b) securing a substantial portion (60 percent or greater) of its operating revenue through a public budget vote; and (c) ensuring financial accountability through an annual financial review or audit. School District Public Libraries and Special Legislative District Public Libraries are the most common types of public library districts.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Curious: How are the libraries of other major municipalities such as Yonkers, Harrison and White Plains set up?

Anonymous said...

Whatever saves the residents tax monies should be considered.

Anonymous said...

The present board receives too much money as a salary for doing nothing but thinking about which way they could raise taxes.
Do any of the board members live in the area that has to pay for the expansion?
If the answer is no why not?

Anonymous said...

Are you talking about the Town Board or the Library Board. The Town Board receives a salary. Is the Library Board salaried or volunteer?

Anonymous said...

The library board.

hal samis said...

Library Board members are volunteers.

The very last thing the Library Board would want to do allow the Library to become a fully independent Library District.
If that happened, their budget would not be hidden like it is now, being three pages contained within the many of the Town Budget; the Public would be more aware of how generous they are with taxpayer dollars.

Anonymous said...

Samis is right we have to monitor the library spending after all it is the taxpayers money.
They are just where they should be under the faithful eyes of the public.
LET IT BE LET IT BE.

Hal for Supervisor said...

If "very last thing the Library Board would want to do allow the Library to become a fully independent Library District" and expose its budget to public scrutiny, then the very first thing we should all be doing is insisting the library become an independent district.
Requiring the Library to obtain direct voter approval of their budget is EXACTLY what responsible critics (including Hal Samis) have been calling for -
Unfortunately dear 11:36 on 10/15, it is likely to cost residents some additional tax money - the independent auditors required by the statute are anything but cheap. Is there enough "fat" which can be wrung out of the budget by careful examination to justify the cost? Good question, but one without a definitive answer.
Experience teaches that more independent professional scrutiny a budget becomes subjected to, the more it costs.
Dear 5:25 - the Library Board are all volunteers nominated by the Supervisor and approved by the Town Board. Library Board members receive no compensation for their work - only the brickbats of an ungrateful public. Yes, several of them do live in the unincorporated area.
So, 9:55, get with the program and support an Independent Library District which needs direct voter approval for its spending plan - which means changing the way things are now.

Anonymous said...

Paul listen to the knowledgeable
Samis. He has never stared you wrong.

hal samis said...

The Supervisor and myself are on the same page re the Library. It was always Feiner's supposition that the Library was a rogue Department and that they needed the same controls as other Town Departments. However, whenever their unchecked spending was commented upon, the Library Board cried "your kids will grow up stupid unless we get more money".
Now the bills are coming in and it is the parents who were stupid. This year's Libary Budget is coming in around $4 million against $3.3, $3.4 in the past. They think they have to play catch-up.

Town Board, just say no.

Feiner gets no benefit from having to include the Library Budget as part of the Town Budget, only grief.

However, it is the Library Trustees who fear this change and I'll wager to say that even the Town Council sees no reason or benefit when having to defend the Library's spending plans.

Just say no.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Feiner I do hope that you will
pay attention to Samis's comments.
He knows of what he speaks and writes.
We need someone like Samis on a board.How about the ethics board?

Ed "pro library" Krauss said...

A library district should be thought of in the same way a school district is thought of. They are both bastions of eduction and knowledge. They are both a necessary part of a community.

Where they differ, is in Return On Investment. Many times over, scientific, unbiased studies have proven again and again, there is a direct corellation between the quality of the school district, and the value of a property within it. People with or without children in the school system benefit EQUALLY, when it comes to appreciation on their homes.

I know of no such comparison between quality of Library District and appreciation in property values.Nevertheless, it would be barbaric to think of a community without a library. And, in the case of a library,seniors benefit even if their children have outgrown the school system.

So, in my mind,it is not a question of whether, but rather of how.

I am very much in favor of taking the politics out of as many decisions as possibe. Deciding objectively is more pragmatic(for the public) than voting on "how many votes will I gain or lose by my decision."

So by creating a Library District we will at least minimize the possibility for politics to rear its subjective head.We the voters- irrespective of political party or no party at all,as with the school district vote,will vote on who sits on that board, AND, what is their budget recommendation. It's worked well in other library districs for decades, and for school disricts for significantly longer than that.

What is the down side? Current Board members who've not "run for office before,"may be uncomfortable. Political appointees, will lose their "Rabbis." Their records will be their "job application" forms...and in the sunlight for the first time.And the largest of all down sides, they may not be elected.

Another down side to the current practice is the budget and the way it is arrived at, and spent. First of all, the budget is put together by the head librarian and maybe a "helper" or two. It is presented to the Town Board who can not veto any line items. So, it's an up and down vote. WHo on the Board would want to vote down a library budget---the American flag, applepie and motherhood. What we end up with is a budget created by people with a self-vested interest approved by people who are affraid to be "negative." Therefore, one of the most blatant manifestations of library budgets submitted and approved over the past five or so years, the disproportionate salary increases given by the library staff to library staff. While other Town department heads and employees received increases of about 3%, library department head and employees received anywhere from 3-5-NOT %, but TIMES other raises.

The only difference of import that I cn see, is that when a school budget is voted down, the resulting budget is called an "austerity budget." However because of mandates and negotiated contracts and committments, the savings aount to 10%, conversely, 90% of the budget is in play. This kind of process must be chiselled out so the library would not be "voted" out of existance.I am certain astute minds in unincorporated Greenburgh could solve this problem. Once this is solved, All the down sides presented will not be enough to justify not voting for a Library District for our library.

When voters are looking over your shoulder, and your seat is on the line, chances are you will be more prudent about spending other people's money. If not, find another board.

face the voters? said...

Elmsford never had a library. Feiner then cut a cheap deal with Elmsford to use the greenburgh public library. The library board played rough on the renewal and Elmsford decamped for Ardsley.

Maybe the library board would have played it differently if they had to face the voters.

hal samis said...

Dear Ed,

Let me take exception to a statement that you made because it is important to understand a basic premise that travels from one Greenburgh issue to the next.

"Many times over, scientific, unbiased studies have proven again and again, there is a direct correlation between the quality of the school district and the value of the property within it."

This would seem to be an obvious, if not logical, conclusion and one that nearly everyone would not quarrel with -- but then there is always me to contend with.

You know that I have the expertise to read a study and understand the METHODOLOGY as well as or better than the next person and this leads me to question your use of "scientific, unbiased" as undisputable fact.

What these studies do to accumulate their type of data is to ask questions which are anything but biased (which when I get home tonight I shall use examples from the Library's "research" effort to show support for the expansion). Generally how this research is conducted is to ask questions of repondents which cause the respondent to answer or select the answer which portrays THEMSELVES in the most favorable light. Who wants to say bad things about the institutions of school system or the Library? Who wants to say that the quality of schools is unimportant? Who wants to say that they would willingly buy a home where the school system is inferior? Often this takes the form of "Don't you agree that the quality of the school system is very important to home buyers?"

Yet home purchasers do buy homes every day in communities with inferior school systems. And they do so even right here in Greenburgh, in all sections. I submit the thesis that all homes have risen in value at the same RATE in all markets where housing stock is SCARCE.

And contributing to this scarcity is the resourcefullness of existing homeowners to curtail or elminate entirely the development of new housing stock which might tend to depress selling prices of the already built inventory. Rising markets are also the perception or even the reality that the choices are limited and becoming fewer by the minute.

And even moderately affluent communities like Edgemont with its A+ school system will feel the pinch of layoffs in the financial services sector and see percentage declines in pricing not unlike parts of Greenburgh which may suffer more directly from the sub-prime fallout.

Because there are many factors which go into a home purchase decision and in markets where the cost of initial entry has risen sharply, these factors are clearly related.
The ability of a purchaser to find satisfaction and write the check is not arrived at without deliberation.

First, the cost. The greatest school system in the world, the lowest taxes, etc...none matter if the buyer cannot afford the entry fee, the price of the home.

Second, the location. If the family breadwinners have to travel too far to their daily workplaces, then this could even eliminate cost as well as the other conditions.

Third, if the buyers have school age children (some never had, some have grown up children) then the need to purchase within a stellar school district is of lesser importance.

Fourth, if the buyer can afford the purchase price, can afford the carry (mortgage payment, in turn a balancing of loan amount and interest rate and amortization schedule) and the taxes (real estate, school, sewer) and there are school age children, then the quality of the school becomes very important. But there is no point in making sacrifices to send kids to the best schools if they have to go to sleep on empty stomachs.

Then there are many lesser factors which may not be deal breakers when finding a home under pressure to enroll the kids in the fall semester. Among them are style of house, number of bedrooms, number of baths, dead end streets, closeness to the school, "part" of town, neighbors, size of garage, size of the plot, landscaping, contour of the land, amount of remodelling needed, proximity of neighbors etc.

And if the existence of Indian Point is really so troublesome, if the potential disruption from the Tappan Zee bridge proposals or the traffic from Ridge Hill are as important as residents claim, then this would have an impact on the sale, the excellence of the school system notwithstanding.

But the most telling counter to the school system as marker of real estate appreciation can be found nearby but still far enough away to not suffer the bias of those seeking to argue that the school system or the library are the single most important elements in building and sustaining value of one's home.

New York City.

Property values have risen sharply in every borough, in good, bad or ugly school districts. In neighborhoods with good schools, in neighborhoods with bad schools.
Even in neighborhoods with good schools where parents choose to send their children to non-sectarian private schools.

If this was not enough to question "scientific" studies, how do you explain significant appreciation in communities where children are bussed to schools "on the other side of town".

The point is, that in good times, everyone benefits and that to view this satisfaction as resulting from what lies beyond the schoolhouse door is misleading.
Studies can be ordered to support any proposition and I suspect that the usual suspects in the world of studies are those that have been paid for by school boards. Not unlike Libraries hiring "professional" consultants to say that Libraries should be bigger and better. The Greenburgh Library hired Noel Lushington who has "scientifically", not surprisingly, managed to find a Library that couldn't be bigger.

Likewise School Boards, seeking higher funding, find studies to support the thesis that by investing in the school district you are really investing in the appreciation of your home's market value.

In either the case of the Library or School Districts, the only beneficiaries of such favorable research are those that paid for them.

I leave you with this thought:
imagine a school district of Edgemont quality but located 3 miles from Indian Point and 3,000 miles away there is an "incident" at a nuclear reactor...what good was the "scientific" study that supported "good schools are good investments"? At best these studies are merely another page in the sales packet assembled by real estate brokers.

So, I close now with the clock ticking until Jim Lasser gets wind of my newest heresy.

Anonymous said...

Hal - interesting thesis, but i think that local experience might show that perception of school district "quality" has an impact on housing prices over a longer time frame. The example we have are differing courses of the Hartsdale and Egdemont communities after Edgemont built its own high school and Hartsdale decided to join up with Greenburgh 7 to take advantage of the Warburg grant. I don't have any of the numbers, but I would think that the result we have today of adjacent communities with widely varying prices for similar properties is solely a legacy of decisions made regarding school districts fifty years ago.

suffering said...

One wonders why people of today should suffer for the mistakes made 50 years ago? Granted, thats an everyday occurrence. But isnt 50 years of suffering long enough?

Anonymous said...

so once it becomes time to pay for the cost of the library, you decide to remove it from the town budget - hmmm...

hal samis said...

Dear hmmm,
The Library should exit peacefully but the debt service obligation of the construction bonding will remain that of the unincorporated taxpayers.

Upon becoming an independent district, only their annual operating expenses will be subject to the whims of library district taxpayers (like a school district) as well as debt service incurred for any future capital projects.

HAL SAMIS said...

As promised from my posting yesterday at 11:10.

Here are questions from the Library's prereferendum telephone survey of residents. Would this be what would be called a "scientific, unbiased study" and used by, in this case the Library, or similar to what was done and has been cited to show the relationship between school quality and the price of homes.

THE CAPITAL LETTERING DENOTES MY COMMENTS.

UNDERSTAND THAT IT IS A TELEPHONE SURVEY, THE RESPONDENT IS AWARE THAT SOME ANONYMOUS CALLER "KNOWS" WHO HE OR SHE IS (BY VIRTUE OF THE CALL) AND IT IS HUMAN NATURE TO WANT TO IMPRESS STRANGERS AND ADD TO YOUR OWN SENSE OF SELF IMPORTANCE, ESPECIALLY ABOUT THINGS LIKE LIBRARIES AND SCHOOLS. THUS:

For the past five years, Trustees of the Greenburgh Public Library have been researching the concept of an improved and expanded library. Do you share their belief that an improved and expanded library is needed for the community?

WHAT THIS QUESTION ASKs IS, JANE YOU DUMB SLUT, WHO ARE YOU TO DISAGREE WITH THESE HARD WORKING TRUSTEES WHO HAVE LABORED AND THAT'S WHY WE HAVE REPEATED IMPROVED AND EXPANDED LIBRARY TWICE IN CASE YOU DIDN'T GET IT THE FIRST TIME.

Did you read the publication that was sent to your home?

WE DID OUR JOB, YOU HAD BETTER HAVE READ IT OR AT LEAST PRETEND THAT YOU DID.

How would you describe your awareness of the library expansion issue? Would you say you were very aware, somewhat aware, unaware, unsure...

WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN, DON'T YOU KNOW ANYTHING, UNLESS YOU WANT ME TO THINK YOU'RE A JERK, YOU BETTER ANSWER THAT YOU ARE AWARE

Do you think the proposed site is appropriate for the expanded and renovated library?

RENOVATED MEANS AT THE SAME PLACE, JUST CHECKING TO SEE IF YOU ARE PAYING ATTENTION. AND THIS IS WHAT WE HAVE TO OFFER, DO YOU HAVE A BETTER LOCATION TO OFFER, IF NOT SAY YES.

I'm going to read you 5 statements. After I read each statement, please tell me if you agree strongly, agree, disagree or disagree strongly with that statement. The first statement is...

WHAT THEY ARE ABOUT TO ASK ARE QUESTIONS ABOUT "OPINIONS" NOT STATEMENTS; HOWEVER STATEMENT IMPLIES THAT IT COMES FROM A HIGHER POWER THAN THE RESPONDENT.

It's about time the community has a new and expanded public library.
Agree strongly, agree, disagree, disagree strongly, unsure

LISTEN SCHMUCK, WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND DO YOU WANT YOUR NEIGHBORS TO KNOW HOW ANTI COMMUNITY YOU ARE?

The project has been talked about for a long time and should be decided as quickly as possible within legal limits.

SEE, THIS HASN'T BEEN RUSHED, IT IS A LEGITIMATE PROJECT BECAUSE IT HAS BEEN TALKED ABOUT.

An expanded and renovated library is long overdue and would likely meet with the approval of voters.

DO YOU REALLY THINK THAT THEY NEED YOUR OPINION AS TO WHETHER VOTERS WOULD AGREE, WHAT THEY ARE DOING IS CONTINUING TO DRILL YOU WITH THE REASONABLENESS OF THE PROJECT SO YOU WILL AGREE WITH THEM

A new and expanded library would be a great boon to the community but this project is simply too expensive for the average household.

EARLIER THEY HAD ESTABLISHED THE COST AT $68 PER AVERAGE HOUSEHOLD. WHAT THEY ARE DOING IS ASKING THE QUESTION IN SUCH A WAY THAT YOU WOULD APPEAR CHEAP AND PETTY WERE YOU TO DENY THE COMMUNITY THIS BENEFIT FOR JUST A FEW MEASLY BUCKS.
***

Welcome to the world of scientific, unbiased studies. This one cost the taxpayers $20,000 to reach 232 respondents. I don't have a problem with the number of respondents; in the research world it is a fair statistical sampling but the questions were what I would call biased. You don't see the answers starting with disagree and going to disagree do you? There are so many tricks and games of the trade that can be employed to render the desired result.

Anonymous said...

The survey that Samis describes should get a Nobel Prize for push-polling.

Anybody not know what push-polling means? It means asking a question that virtually guarantees the answer that the questioner wants.

Ed Krauss said...

Hal, I do not question your ability to read a study and understand the Methodology.

What I do question is your confusing Consumer Research with Empirical Research.

With the latter, there is no skewing; no "stacking' the deck with "when did you stop beating your mother," questions; no opinions! Just hard, cold Indisputable Facts.

Countless studies I have seen, which do not employ samples, rather the entire universe of the areas tested. clearly prove homes and/or property in areas with better school districts appreciate at a quantumly greater rate than homes/property in areas with lesser school districts'

The aforementioned Empirical Research involves area A vs. area B over a protracted period of time- actual data, being evaluated as to Area property values.

Lets take Edgemont, for example. Believe it or not, there are rich, moderate and, yes, poor families living in Edgemont. Yet, they would ALL be grouped together in an Empirical Research study.

All your reasons for "why not" are suppositions on your part. They are used to prove your point. But they are based on your supposition that I was referring to Consumer Research...which I was not.

And your reciting of the questionable documents that were passed off as research pre-referendun are just that- Questionable.That study was not conducted using a scientifically selected sample; the questions were "loaded," and none of the results were statistically significant.

Again, that type of garbage is not what my piece referred to.

Now that you know what I am using to make my case, you're free to take another shot.

Long live bloggers who use their names.

libwatch said...

History has shown us that making the Library an independent district is a bad idea....just ask New Rochelle. It took two failed budgets, threats of closings and limited service to get the third budget approved by voters. Greenburgh has always had a well funded Library and deserves no less. As for unchecked spending in the Library, taxpayers should attend Library Board meetings and urge changes where applicable. The Library Board and Administration need monitoring by taxpayers. One post claimed that Library workers have received exorbitant raises. While this is true for Library Administration, the rest of the Library staff gets whatever raises the town gives all its unionized employees. Leave the Library the way it is currently set up.