Testimony at the Queens Borough Board Hearing on the City's Preliminary Expense and Capital Budgets for Fiscal Year 2007, Queens Borough Hall
February 9, 2006
Good morning. I am Tom Galante, Director of the Queens Library. I want to begin by thanking each of the elected officials and Community Board leaders here today for their continued support of the Queens Library. In particular, I would like to thank our Borough President, Helen Marshall for living her commitment to libraries every day. She has been and always will be our number one fan. Thank you for the opportunity to be able to appear before you today.
As we began fiscal year 2006, $7.9 million had not been restored from the budget reduction in 2002. That funding loss results in 131 fewer positions causing 41 libraries to be closed all weekend long. Even so, the Queens Library continues to roll on – setting circulation records with more than 50,000 items borrowed every day. We continue to do our best to meet the needs of our customers every day. Just think of how many more people could take advantage of our libraries if we were again open six or seven days a week throughout the borough.
We were pleased that the FY’06 budget provided for the restoration of $1.175 million of prior year reductions, and we appreciate the City Council’s support in adopting that budget. However, even that amount is now in jeopardy. The City’s preliminary budget plan released two weeks ago calls for a $1.1 million reduction for the current fiscal year. Our understanding is the Mayor’s Office is seeking ways to prevent this proposed reduction, including discussions with the City Council, but the hard reality is that is the present situation.
If we were to sustain this cut, the days and hours of service that libraries were opened in November, from the $1.1 million restoration, would close again from the $1.1 million reduction now proposed. The days and hours of service just added would be lost – ten (10) libraries would close again an additional morning or evening each week; four libraries would close again on Saturdays; and another library would close again on Sundays. The proposed cut would bring us farther away from our goal of restoring six and seven day a week library service in every community. Our book budget would be cut and programs and services curtailed. We cannot allow library services to be reduced during a period of economic growth. It makes no sense whatsoever.
In addition to the immediate threat to library services, the January Plan reflects an $11 million funding reduction in July. Moreover, that reduction is on top of the $7.9 million yet to be restored. Just think of how many days and hours of library service have been eliminated with the $7.9 million already lost, and then more than double it.
Libraries provide essential, life-enhancing services to the community, offering individuals the opportunity for education and self-improvement. We are still suffering the results of prior year’s cuts, as evidenced by having 40 of our neighborhood libraries closed every weekend. The newly proposed cuts, if enacted, would only compound the problem and limit access to our services and programs.
Despite the loss of City operating support, our elected officials delivered a record $36 million of new capital funding in FY’06 to expand and renovate our libraries and technological infrastructure in the future. Library customers can look forward to dozens of major improvements in library buildings throughout Queens because of the support from Borough President Helen Marshall, Queens’ City Council members, and Mayor Bloomberg.
A number of capital projects, funded in the past, will begin to reshape communities this year. A new Cambria Heights library will open in spring 2006 and a new Long Island City library will open by fall 2006. On Monday, new public service space opened at the Ridgewood Library, totaling 3,000 square feet, including a spacious new children’s room, meeting room and elevator. We continue to be very excited about the Children’s Library and Discovery Center at the Central Library in . When completed, this will be a terrific resource for children all across Queens. Our libraries, that are undersized in many communities, will continue to be renovated and expanded through the continued support of the Borough President, City Council, and the Mayor.
However, expanded library facilities require staff, books, and additional operating costs to open to the public. Opening new and expanded libraries, without new operating support, means we spread the hours and days of library service thinner throughout the Borough. Operating funding in the amount of $4 million is needed to allow us to enhance the services we provide in these expanded libraries without pulling support away from other critical programs which we would like to see restored, such as the Connecting Libraries and Schools Program (CLASP) for kids.
Looking forward, our first priority is to turn back the $1.1 million funding reduction proposed for the current year. Our next priority is the restoration of the $11 million cut proposed for FY’07 and base-lining this funding once and for all. We are anxiously awaiting the Mayor’s final budget plan, the FY’07 Executive Budget, to be released in the spring. We hope and believe that the Mayor and the City Council will agree not to reduce library funding by $1.1 million this year and the $11 million proposed reduction for FY’07 would be added back to our budget in the Mayor’s final budget proposal to the City Council.
Lastly, we must end the annual budget dance that drains our resources and ultimately winds up in diminished library funding. The children, seniors, new Americans – indeed everyone in Queens – deserves better. Saturday and Sunday library service is one of the highest priorities of civic, cultural and educational organizations across the borough and I will continue to fight to return this service to every community. We must continue the progress begun over the last two years if we are to accomplish the goal we all share – to reopen libraries on weekends in every community.