M’TOWN: ANOTHER TENSE ONE OVER SURPLUS

mtown-libLibrary officials will meet with the town today to try and hammer out an agreement to help balance Middletown’s budget. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Officials from both sides of Middletown’s Great Library Debate will get going on discussions today aimed at possibly allowing the township to balance its budget with a chunk of the library’s $1.2 million surplus.

Elected officials and library representatives, in somewhat clenched-teeth fashion, said Tuesday night they hope to come to an amicable solution to an impasse that last week descended into personal attacks.

Just a week removed from a painstaking public meeting at the library last week, where lines were drawn between the two entities with accusations and factual disputes, the topic was still bubbling Tuesday night, as residents took their turns at a township committee meeting to get their comments on the record and ask more questions about the committee’s request for the library board to hand over nearly $900,000 of its surplus to avert another wave of layoffs.

But just when some speakers were making their points, the committee’s timer cut to the next speaker after five minutes.

For example, resident Linda Baum went before the committee with highlighted sheets asking specific questions about the township’s bond for the library renovation, and suggested that the town  look into refinancing its debt so that the payments, which the town is asking the library to cover, aren’t so high in the coming years.

“If you want to get into political grandstanding, go right ahead,” Mayor Tony Fiore said.

When Baum went into her closing, saying that other towns, like Red Bank, don’t structure their bonds in the way that Middletown does, she got gonged.

A dispute with library Director Susan O’Neal was quickly terminated, too, when, after reading from a fact sheet about the library, Fiore questioned how much money was available in the library foundation’s coffers, which is separate from the board’s own surplus.

Fiore’s point, he said, is that the request by the committee that the library board transfer funds from its surplus to the municipal budget will not hamper the library’s operations. The committee and board members have locked horns on just how much money, if any, is legally available in the surplus.

Lawyers and administrators from both bodies are expected to figure that out today, and possibly vote on it in March.

“The library intends to negotiate good will,” O’Neal said, later telling redbankgreen that a response to Fiore’s questioning will be posted on the library’s website today.

Fiore said he hopes the library board will, like others in the state, lend a helping hand to the township, which is facing a major shortfall in revenues and has filed a layoff plan with the state that would cut nearly 30 employees, including 10 police officers.

“It is still my hope, it is still the committee’s hope, that we can still work together,” he said. “If it can happen Montvale, East Hampton and dozens of other towns, why not Middletown?”