Testimony before the Queens Delegation of the New York City Council Public Hearing on the Mayor’s Capital, Expense, and Community Development Budgets for Fiscal Year 2007
May 5, 2006
Good morning. I am Tom Galante, Director of the Queens Library. Throughout my 19 years with the Queens Library, I have been privileged to work with many dedicated public servants such as each of you before me. I want to begin by thanking the City Council and specifically the members of our Queens delegation for your continued support of the Queens Library. Each and every year, the members of the Queens delegation are out in front fighting to make sure we remain the best library in the nation. And once again this year, we need your help to fight harsh budget cuts in the Mayor’s Executive Budget.
As we began fiscal year 2006, $7.9 million still 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. And while we are once again seeking restoration of prior year cuts, we must move beyond restoration if we are to truly enhance library services and increase days and hours of operation. We cannot allow library services to be reduced, or even to remain static, during a period of economic growth. It makes no sense whatsoever.
Sadly, the Mayor’s Executive Budget reflects an $11.4 million funding reduction for the Queens Library in July. Moreover, that reduction is on top of the $7.9 million yet to be restored from prior year cuts. 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. I know that you have championed libraries in the past and I know that you will continue to do so. And perhaps this is all part of the annual budget dance. But I must say here today that if these cuts are sustained, libraries will close their doors throughout Queens.
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. Last month, 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.
Our first priority is the restoration of the $11.4 million cut proposed for FY’07 and base lining this funding once and for all. We are deeply disappointed that the Mayor’s final budget plan, the FY’07 Executive Budget, reflects draconian cuts to libraries. However, we hope and believe that the Mayor and the City Council will agree not to reduce library funding and that the $11.4 million proposed reduction for FY’07 would be added back to our budget when the City’s budget is adopted in June.
Every day a library is open we provide the people of Queens with the opportunity to improve their lives. We educate and nurture the future of this City in every Queens community every day we are open. If we are to expand library service - which I think every one would like to see happen - we need the restoration of $8.06 million that was reduced in prior budgets so that six-day-a-week library service throughout the borough can be restored. I know you share this collective goal to restore six and even seven day a week library service throughout Queens. Together, we can make this happen.
Lastly, we must end the annual budget dance that drains our resources and ultimately winds up in diminished library funding. I had hoped that this year would be different than past years but yesterday’s Executive Budget shows that the dance is still going strong to the detriment of libraries and the people we serve. 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.