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Library versus Township Budget Issues: Tonight's Meeting Preview

Resolutions expected to be passed resolving agreement between township and library on budget

Tonight’s Middletown Township Public Library Board of Trustees meeting (7 p.m. at the library) could either end up being a showplace for a peaceful meeting of the minds or a venue for finance-based friction and discord.

The major issue on the table: whether or not library and township officials have come to the perfect sharing agreement concerning budget surplus money and capital improvements.

“Our attorney has met numerous times with their attorney,” Mayor Tony Fiore said. “They know what we’re looking for and we know what they’re looking for. We think we have come to a very solid, amenable agreement. If they pass two resolutions to make it a reality, then we can honestly say the situation has been resolved to the benefit of both parties.”

The mayor said that the crux of the agreement is that the township agreed to finance some of the capital improvements they have on the table, such as expanding the parking lot including the library in the township’s solar energy plan by replacing its roof and installing the solar panels. In return, he said, the library has shown full intent to hand over to the township $500,000 of its $1.2 million surplus rather than the roughly $900,000 the township initially requested.

“It’s a very feasible and reasonable compromise,” Fiore added. “These are two entities in the township (governing body and library board) that should and can work together for the benefit of the township. “

Now all that’s left to do is for the library board to approve two resolutions that will put this compromise into effect.

Judging by the meetings of the two entities on the subject, the mayor said that the distinct impression he got was that the library board had every intention of following through by passing the resolutions.

However, he said, “If there’s no resolution(s) approval, then there’s no agreement and we’re back to square one.  We (township officials) are very encouraged by the agreement and hopeful that the resolutions will be passed.

It’s been a contentious issue ever since the financially-strapped township asked the library board if it could share some of its healthy $1.2 million surplus to help balance the township’s strict budget and stave off more employee layoffs.

As it stands, Middletown Township submitted its plan to the state Civil Service Commission to get the OK to lay off 26 of its employees in order to stay within Gov. Chris Christie’s statewide two percent cap on spending plan.

The library operates on a budget specifically dictated by state statute to the township. Whether or not the library’s budget fluctuates depends on how the state gauges what it needs according to assessed property value in the township.

Mayor Fiore has claimed that because of the change in economy and property value that went along with it, the library ended up with a more generous budget and healthier surplus.

He asked the board to lend about $900,000 of its surplus to the township for its needier budget. Library officials claimed they could not spare the money.

The mayor claimed it could, especially since the township bonded for significant amounts of money to make the library eligible for state grants to complete its massive renovations in 2003.

The library then established a non-profit 501(c) (3) fund for capital improvements and assorted expenses. The fund collects donations from private donors in and/or out of the township.  The mayor has also claimed that the library has generous donations in that fund.

The library officials have claimed he exaggerated the non-profit fund account’s total. It is reported every few years, not on an annual basis. The surplus is a separate fund, in the township budget, the funds for which (like any budget item) are garnered only from taxpayer money.  There have been claims that the two funds are one in the same and they are separate, the mayor has pointed out on several occasions.

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