February 17, 2018

Trenton Public Library, NJ, May Close Its Four Branches, Lose Half of Its Staff

By Lynn Blumenstein

  • City budget cuts, increased costs threaten library
  • Library has been dipping into surplus fund
  • Public and political outcry growing over decision

Trenton Public Library (TPL), NJ, will close its four branches and lose about half of its 57 FTE employees by November 1 unless it can raise $946,000. The cash-strapped city of Trenton, which funds TPL, plans to cut its contribution by ten percent to $3.14 million from last year’s $3.49 million. However, union-mandated raises, rising utilities costs, and the loss of state aid have increased the gap. 

TPL director Kimberly Bray presented to the board several scenarios to cope with the proposed budget. The board presented three—increased funding to maintain services, a partial increase to ensure part-time branches, or to accept the cuts and close the branches—to the city council, which chose the latter.

However, public criticism over that decision has grown. At the September 23 city council meeting, according to the Trenton Times, residents and politicians alike made pleas to keep the branches open. Some speakers questioned why library board hadn’t undertaken more aggressive fundraising. Library officials responded that a development officer will be hired as part of a new strategic plan. Council President Paul Pintella hinted that there might be a push to keep open the branches: “When you cut off those branches, they may not grow back.”

Inadequate funding
Bray, who has been TPL’s director for five months, told LJ that the city’s funding of TPL hasn’t been adequate for some time. Over the past five years, TPL has taken $1.5 million out of a surplus fund for operating expenses. The fund now has only $290,000 left, which “isn’t enough to keep one branch open,” said Bray.

She estimated that TPL’s actual shortfall is $1.2 million, but by working on an internal plan to cut costs, she reduced the amount to $946,000 by disbanding and outsourcing technical services (a loss of 1.5 FTEs) and restructuring the organization. Bray noted that TPL’s materials budget is only 4.5 percent of the total budget, well below the national average; she wants this to increase.

Because TPL is unionized, layoff determinations wouldn’t be made by library management. Bray confirmed that about half of the staff could laid off. Several are eligible for retirement, however, and could choose that option.

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