During his State of Erie County opinion speech, County Executive Mark Poloncarz noted that Erie County has 1044 taxing districts. These include municipalities, schools, sewer, fire, and others. It is no wonder New York in general and Erie County in particular are viewed as over-taxed.
Most people would think that 1044 taxing districts are too many. Most, but not all.
While most people’s thoughts on hearing Mr. Poloncarz’s statement, as intended, turn to cutting back those taxing districts, the Buffalo and Erie County Library is wondering how to get a piece of that action. The library is actively pursuing a plan to add to your tax burden through a predictable strategy of deception and pulling on the heartstrings.
The library thinks libraries are important. Like most people, I agree. The real question isn’t whether libraries are important, it is what value should be assigned to them and how much it should cost taxpayers. Many things that are equally or more important cost a lot less than the library today. For example, the flu can cause illness and occasionally death. It results in thousands of missed school days for children and countless missed work hours and reduced productivity. The shot to prevent the flu costs health care providers about $15.
To give everyone in Erie County a flu shot, it would cost about $13 million. Erie County spends over $26 million on the library each year.
Still, the library likes to tell people about all of the services that they get from the library “for free.” No, $26 million is not free. There must be a book in the library somewhere that explains that. In a variation of that argument, the library also likes to argue that for every $1 funded, the library returns at least $6.70 in services. As you might guess, this is based on arguably inflated numbers. For example, for books, the library argues that each book borrowed saves a user $9.35, the average retail cost of a book. This assumes that a person would purchase the book instead of borrowing it from someone else, going to an independent library, reading something else or reading it online, if available.
The library also says that each reference question saves users $15. When I Googled “how much does a reference question cost” I found out that there is no charge to email a question to the Library of Congress, although they would prefer that you use a local library first.
The cost to put that particular question to Google? $0.
Speaking of Google, the library says that users use its computers 842,000 hours per year, and that these users would pay $12 per hour to rent a computer elsewhere. This sounds about right. However, I would like to know for what purposes the computers are being used. No doubt, some individuals use the computers to search for employment and perform other research. Others use the computers for general internet browsing. Still others keep in touch through social media.
Disturbingly, some people also use library computers to view pornography.
I do not question whether people should be allowed to use a computer to surf porn. I do, however, question whether tax dollars should be invested to allow individuals to use computers in public places open to children to surf porn. If they are unwilling to prevent it, maybe library officials should disclose how many computer hours are used surfing porn and how much money that saves each year using library resources.
The library also equates attendance at its programs to the cost of attending a matinee movie. The library does host some interesting and thought provocative programs, but must they? Aren’t these programs also available at community centers, schools and other places - for free. Further, why are libraries hosting video game tournaments (well attended, by their accounts)?
It sounds to me as if the library is expanding their mission statement in order to broaden its reach in the community - and justify their taxpayer funded existence.
And now we get to the heart of the matter: It is not necessarily libraries that the library seeks to promote, it is jobs. As stated earlier, the library spends $26 million in Erie County tax dollars each year. Of that, approximately $20 million of that goes to salaries, wages and fringe benefits. About $3 million goes for books and media. Access to books is becoming increasingly easier and costs are decreasing. Contractual salaries are increasing. Rather than being more efficient and doing more with the less, the library would prefer to stagnate and do the same with more. They do not want to depend on the County Executive and Erie County Legislature to fund their jobs program for MLSs.
Instead, library advocates are proposing a special taxing district, similar to a school district. There would be elected board members. Those board elections would likely occur at odd times of the year, so that only avid library users would go to vote. The board would propose a budget to be voted on by those avid users, and it would pass.
In the worst case scenario, a budget vote might fail. If that happened, the library would be given the same budget as the previous year. Unlike being subjected to the potential for a budget decrease by the County Executive and Erie County Legislature during difficult economic times, the library could simply not offer a budget at all and keep its same level of funding.
Libraries are important. They provide valuable services to people who use them. However, they are not the only source of information. Schools and colleges have libraries for students. There are independent libraries open to the public that are not taxpayer funded. Technology has made information vastly more available to people.
In our ultra-connected world, libraries are also no longer so important they should be immune to economic realities. No longer should libraries be guaranteed funding that never decreases while other areas, like health and social services, are cut.
It is a perverse world of priorities when the health and safety of children is less important than offering taxpayer funded access to Web porn.
But it is not really about that, is it? It boils down to a close-knit group of librarians trying to protect their jobs and their friends’ jobs, refusing to adapt while the rest of the world moves on. You can see that in their budget. I wonder how much money they have spent pursuing the creation of another special taxing district instead of buying books?
Rather than being the keepers of information, the Erie County Library is instead serving as purveyors of misinformation. County taxpayers deserve better.
Comments? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also know to spout nonsense on Twitter @PRLivingston.