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Byron-Bergen library board seeks to establish municipal status, separate tax rate with Nov. 7 vote

By Joanne Beck
Mural on B-B library wall
Part of the iconic mural painted on the exterior wall next to the parking lot of Byron-Bergen Public Library.
2017 File Photo by Maria Pericozzi

As president of the Byron-Bergen Public Library, Sally Capurso has a tough job, not only in making ends meet but more recently in pitching an idea to raise revenue through the creation of a 414 municipal library. Other options have been researched, and this seemed to be the most viable choice for ensuring a sustainable public library, she said.

The upside is that it would establish a regular operating budget through an ongoing, no-surprises tax to property owners — one that Capurso and trustees believe is well worth the cost to have solid library programs, staff, hours, and materials without the concern that the library might one day be in danger of existing or losing services due to lack of funding. 

“And this way, taxpayers will earmark a specific amount of their tax dollars for the library. So this funding will make it sustainable for us, and dependable so that we will always know the amount of money that we will be having in our budget,” Capurso said during an interview with The Batavian. 

“Prior to that, we’d have to ask the town boards in both Byron and Bergen for money. And we will simply ask for a certain amount of money, and then the towns will decide how much they want to contribute, and that’s for each town. So it's a little bit of a problem, sometimes, because we figure out our budget, taking what we need, and then we don't barely get what we need.”

The 2023 budget they had to meet was $133,738. And the towns of Byron and Bergen kicked in $6,500 and $74,499, respectively.  That left a gap of more than $52,700 that the library had to come up with in other ways, and it’s a struggle each year, Capurso said. 

It receives a yearly average of $3,500 from Genesee County and $1,500 from New York State. The remaining funding is done through fundraisers and grants that are never guaranteed or known upfront, Capurso said.

And some of those funds cannot be used for library operations and salaries, but instead must go for miscellaneous programs, Barclay said.

Of course, there’s the challenge of pitching a new way of doing things, and it comes with a 55-cent per $1,000 assessed value price tag. However, how much is your library worth to you, your children, and your family, Capurso and trustee Anna Marie Barclay want to know. 

According to 38 studies on other libraries’ returns on investment, “the return value for public libraries is four to five times the amount invested,” their presentation material states.

And simply using the library card to check out books versus buying them can save a patron $624 a year, the material states.

Both towns have the library cost rolled into their budgets, as that’s the way it has worked up to now. So, residents have been paying for the library, it just hasn’t been a separate line item as it would be now, Capurso said. 

“Most people aren’t aware where each dollar goes,” she said. “The Library annually asks each Town Board for funding. Each Town Board then decides how much money to contribute. The Town of Bergen also provides the Library with its physical space, utilities, and general upkeep/maintenance according to the existing rental agreement. 

“Our current level of services and programs, reflecting the needs of the community, requires more funding than the Town Boards have provided,” she said.  “We are recommending that voters earmark their tax dollars for the Library so that the basic operating costs are covered, and we can reliably maintain, or increase, the current level of service to the community. A vote in favor of the proposition (Municipal 414) will allow the Town Boards to collect the taxes on behalf of the Library and turn these funds over to the Library directly.”

The women have been making the rounds, presenting this information to both towns to raise awareness of the proposed change and the related upcoming vote on the Nov. 7 ballot. They received enough initial support through signatures to get the issue on the ballot — requiring 96 and obtaining approximately 145 in Byron, and needing 137 and obtaining more than 200 in Bergen. Now they are trying to see it through to approval.

How has the feedback been so far?

“It’s mixed; people are very concerned about the cost at this point in time,” Barclay said. “We’re very hopeful.”

The tax of 55 cents per $1,000 would mean a yearly bill of $55 on a home assessed at $100,000. How is that money spent? 

“Most of our budget goes towards basic operating expenses: personnel costs, rent, and other expenditures necessary to meet our patrons’ growing requests for current circulation materials,” Capurso said. 

Other expenses are for mandatory wage increases, employee benefits, including retirement, bookkeeping and payroll/accounting and auditing costs, and lawyer fees.

A portion of the money raised will also go toward computer software and upgrades, other community services and outreach, hosting more programs and special events, plus the new position of a children’s library clerk will be added with a focus on children’s book clubs, summer reading programs, and preschool story hours.

The library provides a popular summer reading program, a book club, craft workshops, yoga, scavenger hunts, tax preparation help, babysitting classes, computer usage, Wi-Fi hot spots on loan, home repair classes, low-cost copier and fax use, and books, movies and other materials for use and check-outs. 

If the measure is defeated, there is the potential for library hours to be reduced, and staff and/or programs to get cut. That isn’t meant to be a threat, but there may come that point when tough decisions have to be made, Capurso and Barclay said. They remembered when the Gillam Grant Library closed several years ago as a disappointing but necessary reality for the community.

“The Library will work hard to meet the needs of the community, but we may have to make adjustments. The Library may need to reduce programming, hours, and purchases,” Capurso said. “If the Byron-Bergen Public Library would no longer exist, current patrons would need to seek alternative libraries.”

Research was done about converting Byron-Bergen’s library to a school library, however, it was discovered that due to county crossovers into Monroe, that wasn’t possible, Capurso said. 

The Batavian reached out to both town supervisors for a response to how this initiative will affect their town budgets. Theoretically, if residents approve the library tax, that amount of money would come out of the portion that the town would have paid. No reply had been received by the time of this article’s publication. 

The proposition states: 

“Shall the Town of Bergen (Byron) establish an annual tax in the amount of $0.55/1,000 (fifty-five cents per one thousand dollars) of assessed real property value in order to support the operation of the Byron-Bergen Public Library, commencing in the fiscal year beginning January 1, 2024.”

Early voting begins Oct. 28 and runs through Nov. 5 at ARC Community Center, 38 Woodrow Road, Batavia before the general election vote on Nov. 7 at each each town hall’s polling site. 

Capurso will be making another presentation about the proposition to create a municipal 414 library at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Hidden Meadows Clubhouse, Route 19, Bergen. 

For more information, email or call (585) 494-1120.

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