At its April 2 meeting, council addressed the ongoing issue regarding the Pinelands Branch Library and council and Freeholder Leah Arter, who recently addressed the issue in a letter.
Arter stated the issues surrounding the library raises concerns about Medford’s position with other shared services at the county level.
Following the most recent article about the library in The Sun, Arter reached out to set the record straight.
“What it comes down to is does Medford want this shared service?” Arter said. “At no time did I threaten to withhold shared services. The letter asks if it’s an important shared service and if they agree.”
The library services the towns of Medford, Shamong, Tabernacle, Southampton and Woodland in addition to all Burlington County residents wishing to visit the facility, Arter said.
Arter cited this as one more way Medford got a fair return on its tax dollars for 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.
“Medford shouldn’t draw a moat around its boarders excluding shared services that work,” she said.
The argument between Arter and the council stems from council asking for $30,000 for capital improvements on the building, without further plans of improvement, Arter said.
“They say they want the $30,000 but don’t want to commit to taking care of it into the long run,” Arter said. “Councilman [Chris] Buoni and [James “Randy”] Pace don’t think they should expend money at all and [Mayor Frank] Czekay wants to sit down. There are two different voices on town council.”
According to Arter, municipalities that host the libraries are responsible for capital improvements and the dedicated tax is for the library system, which is spelled out for support staff members, internet access and materials etc.
“Hosting a branch library is an added value to the community and as such, the community should have to put something toward whatever the arrangement may be,” Arter said.
Arter decided not to recommend that the Library Association raise property taxes of residents in other towns to upgrade the facility because Medford owns the building.
“If the building is sold the money goes back to the township. They’re asking for tax dollars to be spent on a municipal asset,” Arter said. “There’s no way for the taxes to be reimbursed.”
Arter noted Pace addressed the Library Commission’s alleged surplus.
According to Arter, the commission doesn’t operate like municipalities or counties, which does not allow the library to hold onto surplus. In 2012, the commission had approximately $37,000, which was put directly toward 2013 as an accounting regulation.
“The monies that are paid to the county for indirect costs are in our budget. They’ve been audited by a third party auditor and it must be approved by the state,” Arter said.
Additionally, the county library system centralizes shared services provided by the county instead of duplicating efforts, which would cost the county.
“If the BCLS had to pay for all the services that the county supplies, it would be much more than the $725,000 the county provides for those services,” Arter said.
“I don’t want the library to close in Medford; I never did. We’re trying to keep it open based on the money the people in Medford pay and the people in the county pay from the dedicated library tax,” Pace said.
Czekay has composed a letter accepting the $30,000 and reiterating the council’s commitment to sit down and discuss future plans, including Arter’s plan to bring the facility “into the 21st century.”
Arter believes she and the council will sit down by April 30, the date Czekay proposed in his most recent reply, to discuss further improvement.
“I’d like to hear what they have to say about that as well,” Arter said.