PLATTSBURGH CITY – Tuesday November 27, 2012
Was the unexpected budget shortfall that hit the Plattsburgh Public Library last year – and the resulting furor – a disaster?
That was one point discussed at this evening's PPL Board of Trustees meeting. The board still struggles with the library budget after an unexpected shortfall that caught it off guard last year. At that time four employees were facing the possibility of being canned.
The question of disastrousness came up when trustee John Prim pressed for a decision to be made on a budget surplus target number for the year. He asked Interim Director Russell Puschak what his target was.
Puschak replied he didn't have a target. He said the library had a balance, a budget that was approved by the board which had a surplus quoted that PPL was going to meet, even doing better than that. He added spending time to figure out exactly what a target was going to be was not a good use of time for the board.
"I think having a [target] surplus," said Prim, "in the $100,000 range is something we as a board should have as a goal."
"You can't go from disaster to health in one year," observed Puschack.
Prim commented that what happened last year wasn't a disaster.
Puschak disagreed. "I think it's a disaster when many employees are in a panic about their jobs and livelihood," he said. He added the media coverage of the crisis pointed to a library with serious issues.
As detailed at this blog (post with video) citizens were vocal, showing up at board meetings to defend PPL against any rash decisions. Among them was Puschak, before he became acting director, who shared his concerns as taxpayer and library supporter.
Disaster or not, what happened a year ago is still being felt now. While one person familiar with the situation said they would be shocked if cuts are made, some employees are still concerned that they might end up losing their jobs this time around. They are looking for confirmation through an official email not sent yet that states the City Council will include $60,000 in the budget to keep the library’s status as is for next year.
PPL Principal Clerk Jody Helfgott spoke to the board at the beginning of the meeting, reading from her prepared statement.
“Silence,” she said, ”is our biggest enemy. It gives rise to paranoia, fear, and anger that spreads like an epidemic to not only to the staff but our loyal, supporting patrons. Your [Board President Roland Lockwood’s] quick positive response allowed me to convey a renewed hope for all of us.”
The positive response refers to good news that Lockwood passed along verbally to PPL after attending a City Council budget hearing. It seems the council will maintain the same financial arrangement hammered out last year by City Councilor/Library Liaison Tim Carpenter that prevented layoffs.
But nothing is finalized yet. Until some PPL employees see it in print, they remain wary about their future.
In the meantime Interim Director Puschak thinks progress has been made.
"We have all worked together," he said at the meeting. "The staff has done an awesome job, the board has done a good job, to put the ship back on course. It's moving forward and it's something to be proud of."