I was having a picnic dinner with my family the other night, when someone walked over to ask me why I hated the library. Surprised, I asked, “What are you talking about?”
Apparently, a recent article in The River Journal provided an alarmist and biased view of the relationship between the Sleepy Hollow Village Board and the Warner Library. For the record, I was neither contacted nor interviewed for that story. In fact, I have yet to be interviewed for any story for the River Journal since I became Mayor three years ago.
The truth is that my support for the Library has been strong and consistent. Warner Library provides essential services to our community that go well beyond the lending of books.
Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow have an Inter Municipal Agreement that specifies that the two Villages provide financial support for the library based on their respective populations. This agreement for funding the library was in effect for many years. However, people should be aware that the previous Mayor refused to pay the increase dictated by the 2000 census and justified the Village’s contribution on population numbers from 1990. For years therefore, Sleepy Hollow was not paying its fair share. When I became Mayor in 2009, this was brought to my attention.
I proposed revising the agreement with Tarrytown to include two major changes: (1) Sleepy Hollow would increase its percentage share by 1.5% each year until the results of the 2010 census were released, upon which event we would adopt the percentage based on the census; (2) for the first time, a budget committee - made up of the two Mayors and two Trustees from each Village - would meet to determine the Library's annual budget. Up till this point, the Tarrytown Board alone negotiated the annual budget with the Library's Board of Directors and Sleepy Hollow was given no voice. This was patently unfair to Sleepy Hollow residents - in essence, taxation without representation. My proposal was accepted by Tarrytown and we been operating under it since then.
This year, Sleepy Hollow increased its contribution from $599,000 to $667,000. Tarrytown decreased its contribution accordingly.
One key component of the revised agreement was the provision that if the budget committee could not agree, the Library's budget would be automatically renewed at the current year's level plus an upward adjustment based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index. This gives the Library a unique position: no department in either Village has a ‘guarantee’ that its budget is not subject to cuts. Even a flat budget could trigger an increase.
With the advent of the 2% property tax cap that was recently approved by Albany the pressure on local budgets is enormous. We will just be able to cover increases in health benefits costs and other mandates. Cuts in services and/or staff layoffs are likely the only options for many villages and school boards. As many of you know, I have been and remain opposed to the property tax cap, registering my opposition with our representatives in Westchester County and in Albany.
But this budget cap is now our reality and I felt that it was it both prudent and honest to discuss this openly with members of the Library Board at their regular meetings. It seems very unlikely that either Village will agree to renew the current agreement with exactly the same terms when it expires in 2014. And honestly, what future village board would agree to a scenario where the budgets for our police, public works, and other departments would be subject to freezes and cuts, but the Library’s would not?
But let me return to the picnic where my support for the Library was questioned – and this was not the only time I was stopped and chastised. Both of my parents were journalists and they owned a local paper. It pains me to see the River Journal willfully misrepresent a story. Not that there isn’t a story here; there is a real, substantive story. But this paper chooses to obfuscate and distort facts in order to run something incendiary and negative. The library story is not the first time. This is a pattern of theirs and I am weary of it. The danger is that as misinformation goes viral, critical time and effort has to be expended to try to set the record straight. We cannot have a civil discourse about the issues in our Village if facts are being misreported and vicious rumors are being spread.