Future of Fulton Public Library rests on May 20 vote

By Ashley M. Casey

Voters in the Fulton City School District will have two decisions to make concerning the fate of the Fulton Public Library in the May 20 election: how it’s funded and who runs it.

The library is putting forth two propositions for next month’s elections. One would make  the library a school district library — solely funded by a tax that the district collects, eliminating the city of Fulton’s responsibility. The other puts the election of the board of trustees up to the voters as well. Currently, the city appoints trustees to the board.

In an April 3 press conference held at the Education Center, library and school officials sought to clarify exactly what the propositions mean for the library and the district’s registered voters.

Marian Stanton, president of the board of trustees of the Fulton Public Library, explained that the move from a municipal library to a school district library would not affect the Fulton school district’s funds. This charter change “doesn’t impinge on their funding, it just uses the boundaries of the school district” to determine who pays the library tax.

“This seemed to make the most sense for us because we really have to have stable funding,” Stanton said.

Tax levy to increase

As a municipal library, the Fulton Public Library receives most of its funding from the city, though that has dwindled this year to $50,000 from the 2007 high of $210,000.

The Fulton school district already collects $170,000 a year for the library. The proposition would bump this amount up to $350,000.

Right now, district residents pay a library tax of 22.75 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value — that’s $22.75 a year on a house assessed at $100,000. If voters approve the library proposition, that tax rate will more than double to 46.84 cents per thousand, or $46.84 a year for a $100,000 house.

As it stands under the city’s $50,000 levy for the library, the tax rate is 15 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value. So in 2014, a city resident with a $100,000 house would pay $37.75 — both the city tax and the tax currently collected by the school district.

Library Director Betty Maute compared the public libraries of Camden and Ogdensburg — both part of the North Country Library System — to come up with the proposed levy of $350,000. Maute said Fulton, Camden and Ogdensburg serve roughly the same number of people, but Camden has an annual budget of $351,623 and Ogdensburg has $550,000.

“Of these three libraries here that are in North Country that are the same population, Fulton has the smallest staff serving the same amount of population with less money,” Maute said. “It’s an embarrassment.”

Stanton said she acknowledged the increased burden on taxpayers in the district.

“It’s hard to ask for more money, but on the other hand, you can’t do something if you can’t pay for it,” she said.

If the propositions are not approved, the library would enact an austerity budget, eliminating staff positions, programs for all ages, new technology and materials. Stanton said the library would be closed on Mondays permanently.

“Without stable funding, we won’t be able to meet community needs,” Stanton told The Valley News. “If they turn it down, we would remain a municipal library and would have to function as such with a $50,000 budget.”

Library seeks to increase services

The Fulton Public Library serves 8,000 active cardholders, most of whom live in Fulton or its surrounding municipalities. Anyone who lives in New York State can apply for a library card there.

Maute and Stanton said computer access is one of the library’s “crucial” services for Fultonians. The library has eight computers for adult use and four for children.

“We still have people out in the parking lot in the morning using our Wi-Fi,” Stanton said.

“And after closing. They’ll sit out on the steps in good weather,” Maute said.

Since the city of Fulton reduced library funding to $50,000 this year, the library has had to close on Saturday afternoons, Sundays and Mondays.

“Being open at least six full days a week is extremely important to me. If we can do it to be open seven, I’d like to,” Stanton said.

She and Maute said they would need at least two more employees to reach the goal of being open six to seven days a week. Currently, the library has five full-time employees, two part-timers and a handful of regular volunteers.

“The staff are very dedicated. Nobody takes a day off without checking to make sure there’s coverage,” Maute said. “They obviously work there because they love it — they don’t work there for the money.”

Stanton said she would like to provide a public meeting room at the library.

“It’s hard for people to have a meeting in town if they’re not a member of something,” she said.

She said the library has made strides in making the 1905 building more accessible, adding an elevator and other improvements.

“It’s a beautiful building, and it’s an asset to the community for years to come,” Stanton said.

Voters to elect library board

“The governance of the library is going to the registered voters,” said Bill Lynch, Fulton City School District superintendent.

Until now, trustees have had to live in the Fulton city limits and have been appointed by the mayor. If the proposition passes in May, anyone who lives in the Fulton school district can run for the library board.

Maute said this change “level(s) the playing field” for the taxpayers outside the city who will fund the library.

Anyone interested in running for the board of trustees must pick up a petition packet at the Fulton Public Library, 160 S. First St.

Candidates must gather 25 signatures and turn the petition in to the school district by April 30.

There will be seven seats and terms will last five years. There will be a lottery after the election to determine whose terms will be staggered to avoid all terms from expiring at the same time.

Candidates for the board of trustees election will appear on the May 20 ballot. The election will be held at the elementary schools.

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