Great Neck Library adopts $9.74M budget, addresses uncertainty

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Great Neck Library board trustees voted unanimously to adopt a budget just shy of $9.74 million via teleconference on Monday night, as the library and other governments face uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The proposed budget calls for a decrease in spending of $65,500, or 0.61%, from the current operating budget of about $9.8 million. The property tax levy has been flat since fiscal year 2018, calling for just over $9.49 million in revenue, with the rest of the budget supported by payments in lieu of taxes and other resources. 

“For the third year in a row, we have been able to leave taxes constant while allowing the library to operate with the best interest of our patrons in mind,” Steven Kashkin, the library’s business manager, said Tuesday on a follow-up call.

The approval of the budget plan, subject to voter approval on June 9, comes as the coronavirus pandemic has claimed more than 80,000 American lives and upended state and local governments, with many questioning how to address budget shortfalls related to the virus. 

Kashkin noted that many other libraries are in a similar situation as Great Neck, with many having to adjust expenses accordingly and keeping their budgets flat. 

“I can tell you that we are not the only library with a budget in flux,” Kashkin said on Monday. “It is a fluid situation, as everybody knows.” 

Great Neck Library’s proposal features a $35,900 increase in salaries, or 0.81%, from $4.36 million to just under $4.4 million. Money for employee benefits and taxes is meanwhile slated to go down from just shy of $2.12 million to just under $2.04 million, a difference of 3.82%, or $78,337. 

Kashkin said the salary changes largely stem from 2 percent increases for the regular staff union and pushing back the start dates of various part-time positions from July 1 to later in the year. 

Most of the reduction in benefits comes from changes in retiree health insurance, Kashkin said, as Medicare reimbursement rates decreased and many retirees and spouses covered by retirement plans died.

The budget plan also projects reducing spending on materials and programs from $1.05 million to $987,750, a 6.11 percent decrease. 

This change is primarily driven by nearly halving overall spending for e-books and e-audio books from $157,000 to $83,837. It’s part of a larger deal, where the Great Neck Library would gain access to more than 40,000 e-books from the Nassau Library System for about $55,000 if approved. 

The proposed budget presumes a deal being formally approved and the library remaining “in good standing” with the Nassau Library System.

For acquiring e-books outside of the system, the library would allocate around $28,837. 

Also included in the budget is a $95,000 transfer to the bond retirement fund, which aims to pay off a bond that supported the renovation of Main Library.

Trustee Mimi Hu said she didn’t see the rationale of moving money to the bond retirement now, given expectations of budget shortfalls around the country due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some people might not be able to pay their taxes, for example, from falling behind on mortgages. 

“There’s so much uncertainty there,” Hu said. “I just wonder if the library has the capacity in case there is a huge blow to the income stream that we anticipate.” 

Kashkin said the transfer is consistent with prior years. The extra funding built up goes toward bond retirement funds so it will allow the library to pay down bonds in 2024, he said, “which will eventually save taxpayers a lot of money.”

The library also has the flexibility to withdraw from the fund to meet obligations in “a worst case scenario” with board approval, Kashkin said, and a cut of $13,000 in service aid from the state is manageable. 

Trustee Barry Smith, suggesting that planned capital improvement projects for landscaping the Main Library and renovating two branch libraries could see cost increases, also asked Kashkin about flexibility in revenue or needing to increase taxes. 

Kashkin said library officials had a set amount they wanted to spend and it is possible the price could come down after the pandemic. The funds for each are also healthy, he said, with the landscaping fund having about $1.5 million and the branch fund having $1 million. 

“I think we’re really nicely positioned right now,” Kashkin said. 

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