The Wyandanch Public Library is proposing a tax increase of nearly 39 percent in its 2019-2020 budget, more than triple the highest increases being sought by any library on Long Island.
The 38.7 percent tax hike would amount to a $272 increase for an average home assessed at $3,500, pushing annual library taxes from $702 to $974, according to library director Edwin Maxwell.
The increase is the highest among the more than three dozen libraries across Long Island that are having budget votes on April 2. The increases range from less than one percent to about 7 percent. The majority of these libraries are in Suffolk County.
Wyandanch library board president Ghenya Grant said the nearly $2.8 million budget is necessary in order to provide needed services. She said the library’s reserve fund has dropped considerably after past years of not raising taxes and that the library is working to create a “tween” area in the library, make needed building repairs, boost STEM-related programing and update its collections.
“We try to be as frugal as we can be but we don’t want that to be at the expense of what the community deserves,” she said.
Grant declined to provide Newsday with a line-item budget and instead pointed to the outline distributed to residents and "typically used" by other libraries.
According to the outline, the largest portion of the budget increase is for salaries, which under the proposed budget would rise from $1.1 million to $1.4 million. Maxwell said there are plans to hire five full-time workers and make another five current part-timers into full-time employees. He said there are currently about 30 employees overall.
Grant said the library, which according to the 2010 census serves about 11,700 residents, has been operating with a “shoestring” staff and that employees have been working overtime.
“We have to be in compliance with Civil Service so we have to get to the point where we have sufficient staff,” she said.
Grant said another large component of the proposed budget is more than $150,000 in retirement benefits. The cost was paid for by the school district, she said, but the district passed it onto the library this year. The school district has projected a possible $2.3 million budget deficit for the current year and is facing "significant" fiscal stress, according to the state comptroller’s office.
Last year library taxes increased about $60 on the average assessed house. Former board trustee Stephanie Williams questioned the amount the library is proposing now.
“It’s much too high, and I don’t think the community can afford it,” she said.
Resident Jarod Morris said the library needs to better account for its employees. Morris cited a 2014 state comptroller audit that found the library board did not provide oversight adequate to prevent "fraud, waste and abuse.” The audit also criticized then-board president Nancy Holliday for changing time clock records 109 times for her nephew and library custodian Kwaisi McCorvey, sometimes creating entries for days when he did not clock in or out. Holliday, who remains a trustee, denied any improper actions and the board promised better fiscal oversight.
After the audit, library trustees stated they had since implemented a policy to guard against nepotism. On Wednesday, Grant said there’s “no law against” nepotism as long as employees are qualified and abide by the rules. She said she doesn’t have knowledge of “any type of no-show jobs or anything like that.”
“Me as the leader of the library would never go along with that,” she said. “All staff are expected to work their hours, they’re expected to be accountable for the time that they’re on the clock.”
The budget vote will take place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the library.