The Board of Chosen Freeholders was able to reduce the library budget by $6 million this year as a result of specific questions I asked during the budget review process. All but one of my colleagues agreed that the response from the library Commission was not satisfactory and joined me in demanding accountability. That is why I am very disturbed and puzzled by recent public statements being made by Freeholder Lillian Burry in which she takes credit for not increasing the 2010 library tax levy. The fact is that Freeholder Burry whole-heartedly advocated for a 3.6% increase, ignored several opportunities to revise the budget, and now is disingenuously boasting that she was instrumental in the zero percent increase in the Library Tax. I feel it necessary to set the record straight.
A recent article from the Asbury Park Press on May 1, 2010, “Library Budget Cut by $6M”, clearly and accurately portrayed the dynamics behind the decision to send the library budget back to the Library Commission for reconsideration.
After I raised questions and concerns at a February budget review session, the Board was lead to believe that the padded budget would be amended. That never happened. Freeholder Burry, who is direct liaison to the county library system, forged ahead seeking a vote on the budget in its original bloated form. In fact, she was the only Freeholder to push for a vote on this budget even after Freeholder D’Amico posted a motion requesting that it be sent back, a motion her two fellow Republicans supported. An article which reported on that meeting and appeared in the Asbury Park Press on April 13, 2010 titled “Freeholders Delay Tax Levy Vote” accurately stated “The five-member freeholder board, with only Director Lillian Burry opposed, instructed their finance director, Craig Marshall, to meet with library officials to work on a new proposal”. Returning the budget to be reworked was an unprecedented, but necessary move.
Perhaps Freeholder Burry forgot her comments at our January 6th reorganization meeting, where she stated “We will also look across all of our operations and make the distinction between beneficial and essential government services. We will always maintain essential services but this may be a year when some things that do not meet this rigorous standard will be cut back or eliminated”. Nice sound bite, however, the library budget she supported contained requests for increases in every single line item. That is irresponsible and it certainly does not meet a very ‘rigorous’ standard, in my opinion. This budget read more like a “wish-list” which included $30,000 in convention expenses, $82,200 in overnight travel, $43,000 for a new vehicle and $60,000 for tuition and training to name a few. Our directive to departments was to decrease their budgets, not increase them!
There is no arguing that we have a very fine library system with wonderful programs, as Freeholder Burry stated in defense of the initial library budget. That is completely missing the point, and should not be used as a distraction from the budget issue. The library’s doors will remain open and our libraries will continue to thrive with resources for our community and without the loss of programs or services.
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We can no longer follow the budgeting patterns which were established in the past. Building up millions of dollars in a reserve fund on the backs of taxpayers for a rainy day is no longer appropriate because today is the rainy day. We don’t need to continue forming new committees (three new ones have been formed by Freeholder Burry during the past three months) to know that we need strict oversight and a determination of necessary versus discretionary expenditures. The Freeholders must direct all departments to reduce unnecessary expenses and increase efficiencies without hindering opportunities for reform. I will continue turning over rocks to find savings that will help taxpayers at a time when every dollar counts.
Monmouth County Freeholder