Testimony of Pat Tumulty, NJLA, In Support of A1427 Before the Assembly State and Local Government Committee

TESTIMONY OF OF PATRICIA A. TUMULTY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR  NEW JERSEY LIBRARY ASSOCIATION

In Support of A1427 Before the Assembly State and Local Government Committee

June 6, 2016

The New Jersey Library Association strongly supports A1427 and thanks Assemblyman Johnson for bringing this legislation forward.

As you are aware, municipal public libraries are established through a referendum process which requires voters to approve the establishment of the municipal library. When passed, the library is to be funded through property taxes at a minimum of 1/3 mil of equalized valuation in a community.   This funding level is approximately $33 on a $100,000 home. Under legislation passed in 2011, the minimum funding level is listed as a separate line on a property tax bill and is “outside” of the two per cent municipal cap. This legislation was modeled on open space legislation which places all voter approved expenditures as a separate line item on a property tax bill.

The 1/3 mil funding formula is not perfect since property values vary for a variety of reasons including the amount of exempt property within a community.  Since the formula is tried directly to property values, it is also negatively impacted when recessionary forces devastate the real estate market.  As we know New Jersey was hit extremely hard by the recession which began in 2009.  It is estimated that statewide property values have decreased over 12% and that impact has been felt by many library budgets throughout New Jersey.  It is now estimated that 65% of municipalities fund library budgets over the 1/3 mil minimum floor to keep library services available to their communities.  Any additional funding given to a library above the 1/3 mil floor is counted in a municipality’s 2% cap.

A1427 would permit communities, through a referendum process, to establish a higher library mileage rate than the current minimum of 1/3 mil.  Again, we looked at the Open Space model which permits communities to establish a variable funding rate. 

The question has been asked that can’t municipalities vote to go outside the 2% cap at this time for specific expenditures.  This is true. A1427 establishes a specific millage rate, would alleviate the expense of voting on this issue each year, and would permit more effective long range service planning.

This legislation is permissive and applicable only to communities which wish to place the referendum on the ballot.  It also contains a “sunset provision” which require the funding to revert to the 1/3 mil funding minimum if the mileage question is not reaffirmed by the votes.

This is not the first time the 1/3 mil funding floor has been reviewed by the legislature.   In 2007 legislation was passed which permitted library boards in communities with extremely high property values to return funds to the municipality.  This legislation was further clarified by a law passed in 2010.    Clearly the impact that the recent recession has had on library funding is evident. In 2015, only three library boards returned funds under this legislation - Ocean City, Avalon and Montville. These are also the only 3 library boards which have consistently returned funds under this law.  Since there is a process to return funds to a municipality when the 1/3 minimum is too high, we believe there should also be a process which would permit communities to establish a sustainable funding base for the future.

The establishment of municipal libraries in New Jersey has always been decided by the voters. It is a process which is still going on.  The community of Northvale voted to establish a municipal library in Nov. 2014. Yes, while NJ was still lingering in the recession.   The library officially opened in June of 2015 and has just celebrated its first anniversary.  The New Jersey Library Association believes that voters have the right to tax themselves for services which they support. 

We strongly believe this legislation would be welcomed by many communities and ask for your support.