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Riverhead Free Library outlines proposed $4.1M budget for 2021-22

After not having a budget vote in 2020, the Riverhead Free Library is proposing a 2021-22 budget that raises spending by less than 1% and raises the tax levy by less than 3%.

The $4,098,791 proposed budget is up for a vote on Tuesday, April 6, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the library.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the library board voted on May 13 last year to cancel the 2020-2021 budget vote — which had been scheduled for April — and have the library operate its 2020-21 fiscal year on the same budget as the prior fiscal year, according to library director Kerrie McMullen-Smith.

“The Board recognizes the extreme economic distress that COVID-19 has had on our community and did not think it could in good conscience go forward with asking local residents to support an increase in taxes right now,” she said in an email at the time.

The board also voted to appoint three candidates to the nine-member board of trustees rather than to have the public vote. The proposed budget is under the state’s tax cap and will cost the average household in Riverhead $224.94 in taxes, according to Ms. McMullen-Smith. That figure uses an assessed value of $44,017 as the average in town. 

The proposed tax levy of $3,922,791 for the Riverhead Free Library is $16,664 below what the state tax cap permits, according to officials.

The Riverhead Library district boundaries are the same as the Riverhead Central School District and extend into parts of Southampton and Brookhaven towns, so the tax rate for the library will differ in each of those towns. Those numbers are not yet available because assessments are not finalized yet.

“Before the pandemic began, the library offered many in-house programs,” Ms. McMullen-Smith said at a budget presentation Wednesday. “We had programming such as foodie groups, parent-child workshops and live author talks. Then the pandemic hit and we had to make it a priority to serve our community in a way that was much different than traditional services. We had to adapt quickly to provide vital services to our community online and virtually.”

Ms. McMullen-Smith said the budget for salaries is down in the proposed budget because the library will be closed on Sundays and the library is not replacing most positions where a retirement or resignation took place.

Among the proposals in the budget:

It proposes a $36,000 cut in printed materials as the demand for non-print materials increased.

The budget also has no money budgeted for library bus trips in 2021-2022.

The library will continue to provide virtual programming and curbside services and it will expand outreach initiatives such as food distribution and virtual English as a Second Language classes, according to Ms. McMullen-Smith. 

The library in 2019-2020 saw a 24% increase in active borrowers and it saw a 24% increase in digital downloads.

The library will continue to offer Wi-Fi access on the grounds of the library 24/7, Ms. McMullen-Smith said.

The library spent $72,831 in COVID-19-related expenses, such as installing sneeze guards at counters, upgrading air filters and decals to mark social distancing.

The Riverhead Free Library will have an election for three seats on its Board of Trustees on April 5, the same day as the library budget vote.
Seven candidates will be running for the three seats, including one incumbent, Janet O’Hare.
Two other incumbents, Louise Wilkinson and John Muntzel, have served two terms and cannot run again, according to library director Kerrie McMullen-Smith.
The six other candidates on the ballot are Susan Berdinka, Gina Chinese, Sharon Blumstein, Dr. Lee Lew, Monique Genchi, and James Wagner.
“We are planning a Meet the Candidate Q&A on Zoom,” Ms. McMullen-Smith said.
The details of that event have yet to be worked out, she said.
The library also will be posting short biographies of themselves on the library’s website, she said

Up until a few years ago, the library’s trustees were appointed and not elected by the public.