Retirement costs up, revenue down at Riverhead Free Library; 4.7% tax levy hike proposed

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | The Riverhead Free Library's budget vote is TK.
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | The Riverhead Free Library’s budget vote is April 2.

The Riverhead Free Library has unveiled next year’s $3.8 million preliminary spending plan, which officials said carries a roughly 4.7 percent increase to the tax levy due to rising employee benefit costs coupled with a loss in revenue.

Library director Lisa Jacobs said the proposed hike to the tax levy —  the total amount of taxes collected in the entire district — pierces the state’s mandated 2 percent cap since the library doesn’t qualify for any exemptions to the tax levy cap, such as certain employee benefits and capital improvements.

Although school districts require 60 percent voter approval in order to pierce the tax cap, Ms. Jacobs said a library’s Board of Trustees only needs to approve the plan by a “50 percent plus one” vote and win a simple majority from the public vote.

“We came in under the cap last year by using some fund balance,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to [come under the cap again] without cutting services this year.”

Ms. Jacobs said anticipated increases in the New York State Retirement System and a loss in revenue from “contract” users makes up the majority of the tax hike.

Residents of the East Quogue, Eastport-South Manor, Remsenburg-Speonk and East Moriches school districts make-up Riverhead Free Library’s contract users. Ms. Jacobs said many of them have decided to go with other libraries that have recently been renovated on the South Fork instead.

“If they work in Riverhead, then they’ll usually sign-up here,” she said. “But, typically, they’ll go with other libraries that have newer buildings.”

Ms. Jacobs said next year’s spending plan contains the final debt service payment of the bonds issued in 1998 for the library’s expansion. She described Riverhead Free Library’s spending as “conservative” while continuing to offer new services, such as its E-book program. Materials are downloaded to electronic devices and are loaned through a digital license that only lasts a certain time, she said.

“I certainly hope our community recognizes the services we offer and the tremendous value they get,” Ms. Jacobs said.

The tax levy increase correlates to about $7 per year increase for the average Riverhead taxpayer based on current assessments and equalization rates, she said. Because the library’s district covers three towns — Riverhead, Southampton and Brookhaven — tax rates for each town will not be known until later in the year.

The Riverhead Free Library’s annual budget vote is scheduled for April 2 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Any registered voter in the Riverhead School District can vote in both the Riverhead library vote and the Baiting Hollow Free Library vote, which takes place at the same time and place and is on the same ballot as the Riverhead vote.

In the case of both libraries, the April 2 vote is technically a vote on whether the Riverhead Central School District should contract for library services at the above mentioned budget amounts.

The Baiting Hollow Free Library’s preliminary spending plan is $11,800, up $100 from the previous year’s budget. The Baiting Hollow Free Library budget has traditionally increased by $100 each year.

Scroll down to read the Riverhead Free Library’s budget proposal.

Riverhead Free Library’s 2013-14 budget proposal