If Wheatfield's tentative 2011 budget passes as is, town residents will no longer be able to use the services of a local public library.
The $11.2 million budget, currently being reviewed by the Town Board, totally eliminates $65,000 in funding for the North Tonawanda and Sanborn libraries.
Both of the libraries' boards already have voted to restrict borrowing and program privileges for Wheatfield residents as of Jan. 1, if that cut goes through. On Wednesday, the 21 members of the NIOGA Library System, which covers Niagara, Orleans and Genesee counties, voted to uphold that restriction.
In other words, a Wheatfield resident denied access to the Sanborn and North Tonawanda libraries will not be able to simply go to another nearby library, such as the Niagara Falls or Lockport libraries.
"This is crazy," Tom Bindeman, NIOGA executive director, said, noting that it is unheard of for a city, town or village of Wheatfield's size and affluence not to have access to a library. "This is against our grain. We really want to serve our citizens."
Economic times are hard for all citizens, agencies and government entities now. Libraries aren't free and are experiencing increased costs just like everyone else, he said, and it's not just here. He's received a call from the New York Times, which is putting together a story on decreases in library funding.
According to Bindeman, NIOGA records show Wheatfield residents have used 19 of the system's 21 libraries, not only North Tonawanda and Sanborn.
Wheatfield Supervisor Bob Cliffe noted a final town budget has yet to be approved by the board. Board budget workshops to review the budget are continuing and a public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 3. A final budget vote is anticipated at the 7 p.m. meeting on Monday, Nov. 15.
"It is entirely possible that the board will restore some or all of the funding," he said. "That's why we hold meetings to discuss possibilities. That's why we have a public hearing to see what town folk wish to do."
If additional revenue comes in during the year, appropriations could be added, Cliffe said.
"However, when discussing adding $65,000 back into our budget, we have to realize that this is an additional $65,000 of new tax on our residents," he added. "The alternative is to lay off two employees and, when I look at our staff, I just don't see the two employees we can do without."
The town's total tax for the average homeowner in a home assessed at $125,000 will increase $58.99, or 9.58 percent, to a total of $615.90 under the proposed budget. The town has been struggling to address the deficit left by the former supervisor. Budget Director Ed Mongold said if the library funding were to be reinstated, property taxes would go up another 1.6 percent.
Other cuts have been made while trying to maintain town services as much as possible.
"A simple roll-over budget would come in with an increased tax well in excess of $500,000, and that wouldn't do anything to recover from our deficit of almost $700,000! In order to minimize the increase in tax I had to make some draconian changes to our spending plan: that is what I presented in my tentative budget," Cliffe said.
Margaret Waite, director of the North Tonawanda Library, said Wheatfield provided her library $49,000 in 2009, which was cut to $43,500 in 2010. About 6,000 Wheatfield residents have North Tonawanda library cards, out of a total of about 23,000.
While sympathetic to Wheatfield's financial problems, she asked, "If Wheatfield stops paying, why would anyone pay?"
The hole left in her budget won't be easily filled, she said, yet "I think it's more a devastating blow to Wheatfield residents who won't have use of our library system."
Patrons who support the library through their taxes voted on a separate line during the North Tonawanda School District budget vote would have a right to be angry if the library gives services free to Wheatfield, she said.
Sallie Ditzel, director of the Sanborn Library, said Wheatfield provides almost 20 percent of her approximately $120,000 budget. Wheatfield residents represent about 25 percent of her borrowers. Sanborn received $21,250 from Wheatfield in 2010, down from $24,000 in 2009.
Her board is looking at ways to trim the budget if Wheatfield's total cut goes through, without too badly affecting residents of the towns of Lewiston and Cambria, which do provide funding.
"Our budget is pretty streamlined as it is. We really have a basic budget. It will be hard to trim," she said, noting that one of her library board members cuts the grass and he and other members do what repairs they can for free to keep costs down as much as possible.
Wheatfield Councilman Larry Helwig at Monday's Town Board meeting estimated that restoring library funding to the budget would add $38 a year to his tax bill for his home.
Funding libraries is still a bargain, Waite said, especially considering that that amount can easily be spent in just a few months in bookstores and video stores. Libraries loan books and videos and offer many more services, such as computer use, for free.
"Libraries are especially useful when the economy is down," Ditzel added.
Wheatfield Recreation Director Ed Sturgeon reminds residents that the town's annual Halloween party will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 30, at the Wheatfield Community Center.
Trick-or-treating in both the towns of Wheatfield and Niagara will be 4 to 7 p.m. on Halloween, Sunday, Oct. 31.