By John Burton
RED BANK – Fewer hours, programs and employees are in the public library’s immediate future as its board of trustees and director look to come to terms with a significant budget shortfall.
Faced with a $131,000 budget shortfall in this year’s budget, the library’s board recently had a drastic layoff, eliminating six of its 11 positions, requiring operating hours and various programs to be scaled back.
“We’re working to have reasonable hours that everyone can agree on,” said Virginia Papandrea, director of the library, 84 W. Front St., as a staff member posted the new hours of operation on the library’s door.
Beginning this week, the library is open for 20 hours, from 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays and Fridays, and 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays. The library is closed Saturdays and Sundays.
Prior to the announcement, the library had been open 45 hours a week, and in past years, operated 54 hours a week, Papandrea said.
The changes are part of the reorganization authorized by the nine-member board during its March 14 meeting in an attempt to “live within its means,” as stated in a March 15 library press release.
The moves will allow the library to remain viable. Without taking the measures, the library might have had to close in 2015, according to a question-and-answer sheet from the library board that is available on the library’s website at www.redbanklibrary.org.
Board members hope to be able to restore regular operating hours by next year, according to the sheet.
“What really precipitated this was over personnel costs,” Papandrea said.
In November, a 30-year employee is planning to retire, and as required under the union contract with the borough, she will be entitled to take with her $72,500 payment for unused sick time. That cost, other personnel expenses and a continuing reduction of the municipal contribution over the last few years has taken its toll on the library’s budget, necessitating the cuts, according to Papandrea and the board’s information.
“It’s not hitting us in a rich year,” Papandrea said.
If the cuts were not enacted, 95 percent of the library’s 2014 budget of $800,000 would be going for the payout and rising personnel costs, including salaries, pension and health insurance contributions.
The borough’s contribution for this year is expected to be $668,788.
The budget would mean very little money for programs, new items and equipment, Papandrea said.
The board cut three full-time positions – the custodian, children’s coordinator and the reference and local history librarian and three part-time jobs –library assistant/teen services coordinator, circulation assistant and reference librarian.
Full-time employees are covered by the union contract, which allows them to move to other available borough jobs, based upon qualifications and seniority. If employees chose not to move into available slots, they would get a severance package that includes three months of health insurance and a week’s pay for every year of employment.
The borough contributes money for the library’s operating budget based on a state-mandated formula for a minimum contribution. In Red Bank’s case, that’s about 2 percent of the municipal budget. Municipalities are able to contribute more money, if they wish.
Papandrea said the borough traditionally has provided the employer share of pension payments, workers’ compensation and liability insurance for the library. But, during the past few years, the formula amount declined as property values slumped following the 2008 recession. That has required the library to scale back hours and services in the hopes of avoiding layoffs, Papandrea said.
The library has independent organizations, Friends of the Red Bank Public Library and the Foundation for the Red Bank Public Library, which raise money to assist the library. In 2013, the foundation raised $12,000, according to the board.
Papandrea feels as though she was left without a choice.
“I’m trying to work with the staff to live within these decisions,” she said.
Papandrea, however, will only have to work within these constraints for a little more than two months. She is retiring at the end of May.
“The trustees regret very deeply that these changes are necessary, and feel a great sense of loss about them,” Library Board President John Grandits said in a prepared release. “But, these actions will assure the future, long-term financial standing of the library.”
Grandits was not available for comment earlier this week.