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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 25, 2009

To avoid Guilderland library fees
Town advises getting free Altamont card

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND —The town has weighed in on a $25 fee the Guilderland Public Library is instituting on July 1 for patrons who don’t pay taxes to support the library.

On Friday, Guilderland issued a press release stating the library “is not funded by or associated with the Town and is managed by its own Board of Trustees.” The release goes on to inform residents they can transfer their library cards to the Altamont Free Library at no charge and then use those cards at the Guilderland Public Library.

The release notes that, while the town contributes no funds to the Guilderland Public Library, it does fund a portion of the Altamont library’s operating budget “and supports the efforts of the Library in its move to the Altamont Train Station.”

Guilderland Supervisor Kenneth Runion, who lives in Altamont, said that the town issued the release because so many residents have been calling Town Hall about the new fee. For instance, he said, “People ask if we plow for the library...No, we don’t...We really have no connection.”

He went on about the callers, “They’re kind of angry at us...We’re trying to alleviate some of the stress.”

He also said that town taxes make up just 3 percent of the local tax bill but people don’t often realize the bulk is for the school district.

Runion said the suggestion to get a free card from the Altamont library and use it at the Guilderland library wasn’t meant to be an end run. “We’re all struggling with revenue right now,” he said.

Judith Wines, director of the Altamont Free Library, said her library would welcome the additional patrons. “Our point of view is the purpose of a library is to serve the public,” said Wines. Having more patrons, she said, “makes a stronger case for funding.”

Barbara Nichols Randall, director of the Guilderland library, said she was unaware of the town’s press release until The Enterprise called on Monday. “They don’t have to go to Altamont to get a library card,” she said of patrons looking to avoid the $25 fee. The Upper Hudson Library System, of which both Altamont and Guilderland are a part, issues free cards that can be used at libraries in both Albany and Rensselaer counties.

Not everyone sees the new fee as a burden, Nichols Randall said. “We’ve had a number of people come forward and say it’s a bargain,” she said. “They say they’re happy to support the library.”

She also pointed out that having a Guilderland card allows patrons to access all the databases, lets them sign up for free passes to area museums, and gives them a first chance at participating in library programs.

Seeking revenues as use increases

In May, voters passed a $3.13 million budget for next year for the Guilderland Public Library. With state aid down, gifts and grants in decline, and interest on investment plummeting, the lion’s share of the budget — $2.86 million — comes from property taxes.

At the same time, the recession has caused record library use, said Nichols Randall.

The library planned to make up for some of the revenue shortfall by increasing fines for overdue books and by starting to charge an annual fee for library patrons who live out of the district.

The library district follows the same boundaries as the Guilderland School District. People who live in other school districts, even if they live in the town of Guilderland, do not pay taxes to the Guilderland library and now have to pay a $25 annual fee to get a Guilderland library card.

Nichols Randall said back when the budget was first adopted that instituting the fee “was a hard choice to make.”

Over 6,000 patrons from out-of-district use the library, she said. Most of them live in another school district. The library’s budget framers expected to raise $37,500 from the non-resident fee, to be phased in beginning on July 1.

“We were being very conservative,” Nichols Randall said this week. “We don’t know how many value their card enough to pay for it.”

If there are more than four in a family, additional children do not have to pay for a library card, Nichols Randall said. For those in the Guilderland School District who pay library taxes, the rate for next year is 97 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, so a resident with a $100,000 home would pay $97. To stay in keeping with this amount, Nichols Randall said, the library decided a household should pay no more than $100.

The only money the library derives from the 850 households that are not in any library district is 35 cents per person per year from the state to the Upper Hudson Library System, “which is not even what the plastic library card costs,” said Nichols Randall.

Although the $25 fee goes into effect in July, the Guilderland library won’t have a clear idea until September of how many patrons will pay the fee, she said, since it will be staggered according to each card’s expiration date.

“Sticky situation”

The situation with the Altamont and Guilderland libraries is an unusual one, said Joe Mattie, a library development specialist with the State Library division of the State Education Department.

“In the olden days, free libraries served anybody they wanted,” he said, explaining there was a membership fee to join.

When the Library Aid Bill went into effect in 1990, Mattie said, each library had to have a determined service area.

The Guilderland library had become a public library in the late 1980s. This meant it had an elected board of trustees to govern it and set its budget and it had taxing powers, following the school district boundaries.

The Altamont library, though, was already in existence within the boundaries of the Guilderland Public Library.

Wines points out that the Altamont Free Library was formed on July 1, 1916 to serve the village of Altamont and the surrounding area.

A free library does not have taxing powers but rather solicits funds from municipalities as well as private sources. Wines estimated that the Altamont Free Library annually receives roughly $40,000 from the town of Guilderland, $40,000 from the village of Altamont, and $5,000 from the town of Knox that has no library of its own.

“The library has looked into formally serving Knox,” said Wines, but it would have to be contiguous and a strip of land prevents that.

“The Altamont library had to receive special permission to continue,” said Nichols Randall. “It continues to present unique situations.”

She also pointed out that Altamont residents are paying three levels of library taxes — for the Guilderland Public Library, for the portion of village taxes that go to the Altamont library, and for the portion of town taxes that go to the Altamont library.

Wines has an idea to solve the “sticky situation”: “My ideal situation,” she said, “is we’d have system-wide libraries...since we all share the same resources.”

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