Says Other Towns Should Not Be Burdened With Medford’s Building Costs
(March 27, 2013)Saying that the Medford Township Council has repeatedly and stubbornly refused to find common ground with the County on a plan to renovate and upgrade the Pinelands Library Branch in Medford, Freeholder Leah Arter today said she will begrudgingly pursue discussions with other communities interested in hosting the Pinelands Branch Library.
"Councilman Randy Pace and some of his council colleagues on the Medford Council have made it clear that they would rather fight with the county than work with us in regard to preserving the Pinelands Branch Library in Medford," said Arter. “To cut to the quick, we’re done talking with Medford.
"I am disappointed for all the people of Medford who value having a library in their hometown, but the current township council's refusal to work with us leaves me no choice but to open the door to other Pinelands’ area communities who would be willing to enter into a shared services agreement with the County and host a Pinelands branch.
“Unfortunately, it seems as if the Medford Council is the only local governing body in the county that doesn’t see the cultural and fiscal value of being a part of what has been a longstanding, taxpayer friendly shared service agreement between our municipalities."
Arter’s position was fully detailed in a letter to Medford Council, in which she indicated she would stand by an earlier promise to have the County provide up to $30,000 in reimbursements for maintenance, utilities and insurance, all items typically provided by host municipalities, for one year.
She had also indicated previously that the County would work with Medford to upgrade and modernize its existing 6,000 square foot facility, to meet the growing interest in children’s programs and electronic media. This was embodied in a new proposed agreement with the township.
“However,” said Arter, “Medford cleverly attempted to amend the agreement to ensure the township would never have to put up a dime for the building it owns – not for maintenance, not for capital improvements. And I can’t in good conscience expect all the library taxpayers of Burlington County to foot the costs for one town’s building.”
In response to Medford’s assertion it is not getting a fair return on its tax dollars for library services, Arter pointed out that 20 Burlington County towns pay the same tax, but have no branch or member library, but are willing participants in a shared services library system that enables them to use all libraries, regardless of the town in which they are located.
“Councilman Pace would rather mislead the public about the County’s finances, and I would caution him about further allegations implying a misallocation of library funds,” Arter said. “The very dollar amounts he criticizes were developed by a financial consultant and validated by auditors. Case closed.”
Honorable Mayor Frank Czekay Township of Medford
17 North Main Street
Medford, NJ 08055
RE: Pinelands Library – Branch Agreement
After review of Medford’s proposed revisions to the Branch Agreement for the Pinelands Library I have arrived at the inescapable conclusion that your governing body, led by Councilmen Pace and Buoni, must be diametrically opposed to shared services programs in Burlington County, and most notably, the Burlington County Library System, which is one of the longest standing and highly regarded shared services programs on record.
Your revisions to the agreement, coupled with the public comments by the councilmen, make it clear that Medford is of the position that every dollar paid in the library system must be returned to Medford. This simplistic position begs the question as to how the Main Branch, with its myriad number of programs and collection, could have ever come into being and remain an operational system.
The Main Branch, with all its ancillary services and financial support for 17 branches and member libraries, is a result of 37 towns pooling their collective resources to avoid the cost of each hosting a stand-alone library. And we know that the annual operating cost of a stand-alone library can be as much as $2.1 million (Mount Laurel).
Keep in mind that there are another 20 municipalities that have NO library, branch or member, that receive County support. But they are willing participants to the shared services library system, that enables their residents to pay the dedicated tax, and utilize any branch or member, regardless of the town in which it was located.
I cannot stress enough that Medford has the privilege of being a host community for a branch library with the County dedicated tax paying entirely for the collection, programs and staff. The $1 million (actually $957,000) that your property taxpayers, together remit in dedicated library taxes, does not pay exclusively for the Pinelands Branch. This gives them full access to the entire library system, including on-line services.
The shared service principle concerning branch libraries is a simple one -- if you want to host a branch in your town, you should be willing to contribute more than other towns that do not enjoy that benefit. That contribution, memorialized in the existing contract, calls for the host community to provide and support the physical facility that house the branch. Simple principle, sound logic. Medford is, over the course of many years, the only municipality to protest its contractual responsibilities to maintain the facility in its town, which it in fact owns.
Meantime; there are others who are envious of Medford’s position. For example, Southampton residents fully support their own local library (The Sally Stretch Keen Library) -- including paying for staff, programs and the collection, while also maintaining their facilities in excellent condition. Southampton residents also pay the same County Library tax as Medford to enjoy the benefits of the system. It is no wonder that a representative of the Sally Stretch Keen Library has recently come on record and inquired about the possibility of receiving branch status under the terms currently objected to by Medford.
The shared services aspect of our library system has long included the support of various friends’ organizations. However, Councilman Pace met with representatives of the Medford Library Association and succeeded in getting them (including Judy Adams, President) to agree that – after years of their direct involvement in the Pinelands Branch – that they were not “legal,” and therefore, should not be signators in the agreement between the Library Commission and the Township. He then proudly publicized this concession on my Facebook page, of all places. So, for at least the next several months, the association does not even have a voice in the future of the Pinelands branch.
At the moment, that is neither here nor there. The Library Association can reinvent itself, all well and good. But here at the County, there is a big picture perspective to consider.
As you know, former Freeholder Garganio represented to Mr. Schultz and Mr. Pace last year that we were looking at a comprehensive study on the BCLS. Since then, as we were formulating the specifications of the RFP, we realized that an outside consultant would arrive at certain conclusions that were all-too-apparent. One of those conclusions would be that the Pinelands Branch facility was vastly inadequate for the population it was intended to serve. The fact that a third of Medford’s cardholders use other branches, basically substantiates that finding.
That being the case, I pitched to you a proposal to convert this 6,000 square foot facility into a proto- type, or pilot project, of what local libraries can and should become in the modern area. The emphasis was on what is popular (children’s programs), and what the now/future of libraries (electronic resources) is. You liked this forward thinking, which I appreciate. But, your proposed addendum speaks volumes to the contrary. My contract called for Medford and the County to “cooperate” together to develop the prototype branch. Your addendum flatly rejects that proposal by stating that Medford will only provide “advice”, and that my contract terms “shall have no lawful force or effect.” Furthermore, quotes from Councilman Pace in newspaper stories about the “addendum” make it clear that Medford has no intention of ever again contributing to the upkeep and maintenance of the Pinelands Branch, let alone improvements to bring the branch into the 21st century.
Your proposed addendum to the agreement turns the responsibility for the physical facility upside down, and places that liability solely on the County. I cannot, in good faith, recommend to the Commission that it execute your amended agreement, which would end Medford’s shared service responsibility and place the total burden for paying for the Pineland’s Branch on County library taxpayers, most of whom do not have the luxury of having a branch in their own hometown. Simply stated, I will not recommend that the Library Association raise property taxes on residents of other towns to upgrade the library building that Medford owns.
As I indicated in prior correspondence, the Township does have another option. If you feel that the township’s total contribution to the library system is onerous and unreasonable, you can terminate the agreement that is currently in effect by forwarding written notice to the County, pursuant to paragraph #9,
follow the mandates of statute, initiate a referendum to leave the system, and, with voter approval, proceed to raise the capital and operating costs for your own municipal library, as three other towns have done. Or, for that matter, you could decide to have no library at all.
When this discussion began last year, I thought it was about $25,000 to $30,000 in expenses, which Medford indicated it could ill afford to pay out of its $22 million budget. Freeholder Garganio readily agreed to address that financial issue for one year, and, even though he is no longer a County official, I have endeavored to stand by his verbal representation, and, in good faith, I will ask the Commission to live up to this pledge to reimburse your costs, up to $30,000 for the current year.
In my opinion, Medford’s handling of this issue also raises serious questions about Medford’s position with regard to other shared services initiated at the County level that are, intended to mitigate the costs of programs and services for all our towns. The list is a long one, including but not limited to emergency dispatch, emergency management, solid waste disposal and recycling, aggregate purchasing, pooled financing, community development, green energy grants and audits, recreation grants, farmland preservation, and the animal shelter.
Does Medford intend to withdraw from other shared service initiatives? For that matter, does council have a full understanding as to what the County actually provides its residents? Parenthetically, as I bring this lengthy letter to a close, I’m looking at the proposed 2013 road overlay program for the County, totaling $7.1 million. Of that amount, roughly one-seventh ($1.1 million) will be spent repaving major portions of Main Street and Church Road in Medford. This is only one “item,” but it speaks to the premise of this correspondence; the County endeavors to make sure Medford gets fair return for its tax dollar, and Medford shouldn’t draw a moat around its borders and isolate itself from shared services that work.
LEAH ARTER Freeholder