Montclair Council Amends Budget To Allow For $100,000 Additional Library Support

Montclair’s 2021 budget process had been fraught, with concerns about funding for the Montclair Public Library system becoming a hot button issue for many. On Tuesday, the council announced amendments to the 2021 Montclair budget – including an increase of $100,000 to the township’s library system for a total of $419,848.

The library funding increase is contingent upon the library’s Bellevue Avenue branch, closed since March 2020 lockdowns, be opened as soon as possible. The next public hearing, and a possible final vote, will be May 18.The next public hearing for these new amendments to the budget, and the possibility of a final vote, is scheduled for May 18.

This flyer circulated prior to the meeting called for residents to write to the council to increase funding to the library.

Some residents during public comment were pleased with the amendment; other were not satisfied and called for more transparency in the budget process. Members of Montclair Beyond Policing also raised concerns about monies in the budget allocated to the Montclair Police Department and how that money might be better allocated. Cuts to the budget that are part of the new amendments include a reduction in police vehicles. Ann Lippel of the Montclair Senior Citizens Advisory Committee questioned the lack of attention to the growing senior population in Montclair – stating that there are more senior citizens in Montclair than students in Montclair Public Schools.

The amended budget would result in just under a 2% increase in municipal taxes.

Prior to the budget conversation, the Montclair town council also gave a proclamation in memoriam of Olympia Dukakis. The proclamation was read by Councilor at Large Robert Russo, who recalled the parade held for Dukakis after she won the Oscar for her role in “Moonstruck.”

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  1. I think the Council’s stipulation the additional $100,000 is predicated on reopening the Bellevue Branch was wrong as it does not address the ongoing utilization issue of this building.
    The building is a part-time facility facility, both pre-COVID and will continue to be post-COVID.
    Except for Mondays, the building only opens at 2pm and closes at 6pm. Further, it is a Township-funded public facility that is not fully ADA accessible and requires substantial investment to bring it up to appropriate standards. It is time to reimagine how this building is used while continuing its purpose of serving the public good as an educational resource.

    An aerial overview of the library’s immediate neighborhood shows 3 schools, providing elementary through high school education, to 1,000 students, over 11 contiguous acres. While independent in their respective operations, the geography mimics qualities of a campus-like setting with their students who could utilize the branch library. Furthermore, each school is space-constrained. Traffic generated by each school competes for roadway access creating constant circulation and pedestrian safety issues. The good news is the branch library does not contribute significantly to this because of its low patronage, but we are advocating to reverse this.

    The key school owner stakeholders, the MPL and the Township have been remiss in not collaborating on the inter-relationship of their respective needs, an under-utilized branch, congestion, and pedestrian safety – for the mutual benefit of all.

    The Township could help in one innovative way. Much like they create one-off redevelopment zoning, they should explore creating a education campus zoning overlay for these 11 acres to facilitate unique land use and circulation solutions. The MPL, the BoE & the Township should also explore a property exchange – the branch library going to the school district, the Buzz Aldrin playing field being acquired by the Township and an inter-school agreement to share the purposes, uses, and financial obligation of the branch library building. The inter-school arrangement would allow it to piggy-back MPSD bonding capability for needed improvements.

    Right now, we are just sticking bandaids on a decades-long struggle to make this building viable.

  2. A more straight-forward and slightly more realistic alternative would be to exclude the two privater schools and focus on just the municipal, MPL and Montclair Public Schools interests. It would require closing (preferred) or narrowing Norwood Ave. I know, impossible. Anyway, if we could wrap our brains around that, we could add a two-story, 18,000 sf Senior Center addition to the library. This enables full ADA access and potentially great synergies in programming and space sharing. 18,000 SF is the a tidge less space than the proposed United Way bldg’s Senior Ctr. proposal, but in new, more efficient Class A space. Or, the MPL could continue fund-raising to expand the as a library use and bring it up to code – for a need I’m not sure they have clearly defined. Let’s see, where would I want to spend that money? I’ll have to think more on that.

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