The Sugar Grove Library is in danger from actions taken by its Board of Trustees. The board has failed to properly understand funding. It has further undertaken unjustifiable actions against the library staff and set a course that will likely result in a far less useful community asset.
First, despite requests from the public to delay their controversial actions for further community input and an analysis of the less draconian options that were presented, the board went forward with budget action that is both incorrect and unconscionable. The board took these actions on a questionable, irregular meeting day at an irregular time inconvenient for the public to comment and observe.
The strength of any library is its staff and services. However, the board chose to cut both pay and hours of its professional employees in exchange for more items on the shelves. A request was made to put this choice before the library patrons, to ascertain if the usersâ€”the taxpayersâ€”preferred a few more materials to the outstanding services currently provided. A request was made to try to find a middle ground. The board ignored the options and took financial action against its employees.
Second, the board actions amount to punishing the staff for the board’s own decision. The board determined to build the new library without having a parallel referendum passed by the community to increase the funding to operate it. Continued referendums have also failed.
It is the board’s responsibility to determine why the public will not vote the funds and to present future election day requests in a manner that will be accepted. Making the library less useful and more stressed is certainly counterproductive to gaining community support. The board has demonstrated an inability to listen to the community it was elected to serveâ€”both long term regarding funding referendums and short term regarding how it operates.
Third, the board continues to talk of a financial crisis, yet just decided to increase materials purchased by 330 percent. This actionâ€”the reason for cutting staff payâ€”is certainly excessive. Recently, the library received a donation to the identified primary target group, children, of 800 books. Interlibrary loan accommodates, within a few days, patron requests for materials Sugar Grove does not have. Several bequeaths are directed at material purchases.
The board action to drastically further increase material at the expense of the staff is unjustified. Once again, this board has interjected itself improperly into operations. Board members are not professional librarians, yet they continue to micromanage and over-ride the experience, knowledge and recommendations of the staff.
Fourth, the board has failed to properly manage the library funds. A Special Reserve Fund (SRF) is maintained for capital expenses and cannot be used for operating expenses or the purchase of books. Coupled with the proceeds of the sale of the old building, the reserve funds are more than sufficient for a brand new building containing new equipment. There is no immediate financial crisis, certainly nothing pending that justifies sacrificing community services and staff. Unnecessary hoarding of money while the library deteriorates from within is a certain means to bring on future crisis.
Fifth, the board has voted an incorrect transfer of funds. The library incurred unforeseen additional costs in implementing the new building. These were one-time expenses. For example, two buildings briefly had to be maintained and additional hardware was needed. These expenses were properly the responsibility of either the SRF or the proceeds from the sale of the old building and should have been taken or reimbursed from them. Instead, the board chose to use operating funds (library materials, utilities, payroll). They then sought fiscal year solvency through reimbursement of these capital expenses from another fund (the Rich Fund) that allows material purchases. It is ironic that the board stated they wanted an increase in materials and yet robbed a fund created for that purpose.
Sixth, there is a troubling perception that some board members do not seem to separate their personal feelings from their elected responsibilities. Something seems to be influencing an attitude of retribution. Cuts in staff pay and hours was the â€œnuclear optionâ€ among several reasonable, less drastic choices. If board members cannot elevate above personal distractions, they should reflect on the justification of their continued service.
The next board meeting is Thursday, July 8, at 7 p.m. The meetings begin with a public comment session. Although this board does not seem inclined to listen to the public, I encourage all residents to attend and participate. The community should take an interest in what has been done to its library and where those actions may likely lead.
Sugar Grove Public Library
Board of Trustees