Middletown residents who are urgently seeking to stop the shutdown of the Navesink, Bayshore and Lincroft library branches came to the Township Committee meeting room Monday night hoping for assistance, but checked out empty-handed.
Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger, 2012 mayor Tony Fiore and former Library Board Commissioner and Committeeman Kevin Settembrino listened to the ideas, outrage and pleas from community members, but repeatedly suggested the campaign belongs in front of the Library Board, because the governing body has no role in its decision.
"We want to have an open dialogue," said Michael Winchell, the advocate for the Navesink Library Branch. "We're asking for your engagement."
Winchell had come to the meeting not to spar over the hotly contested financials that prompted the township to issue a detailed statement about the library funding situation earlier in the day, partly in response to opinion columns and comments on Patch, but to make the point that the branches serve as beloved community centers in the 60-mile square township, and anchor distinct neighborhoods.
He said that a committee of citizens wants to propose the idea of keeping the branches open at reduced hours, and one shared full-time librarian, on a $100,000 budget -- one third of the current allocation and staff.
He asked if the township's financial experts could help review the balance sheets to find the funding, because The potential closures are noted on the MTPL.org website.
"This is a new [library] board, not equipped to deal with an austerity budget," he said. But the elected officials said the board had the benefit of professional guidance from its executive director and attorney.
If allowed to close, the Lincroft branch would revert to the Middletown Board of Education, the Navesink branch would return to the Duryea-Navesink Library Association, and the Bayshore branch in Port Monmouth would be under the township's control because it is a township building.
Superintendent of Schools William O. George said that the library branch situation would be one of the issues discussed at a shared services meeting with the township, to be held sometime before Feb. 20. Both the Navesink and Lincroft branches are situated near elementary schools.
As for the Bayshore branch, Township Administrator Tony Mercantante said the township understood that the residents of the storm-ravaged section of that part of town have a special need for computer and Internet access.
Though no official decisions have been made yet, the township could decide to utilize the two-story structure for township offices.
"This has already been discussed: If we do decide to use it any way...we would continue to utilize that buiding and we would make computer terminals available to the public -- no matter what we decide to use it for," said Mercantante.