WEST ORANGE, NJ – With final public comment on the municipal budget on the agenda, the West Orange Public Library was again the center of discussion at the West Orange Town Council meeting on May 3.
Library Director David Cubie, Library Board of Trustees President Sheri Prupis, Gerald Sweeney of the Friends of the West Orange Public Library and several library staff members attended in support of library funding by the Township.
Prupis responded to a recent review of the library’s audits by the town’s chief financial officer from 2008 to 2015. She acknowledged some years of surpluses, but noted that overall expenditures exceeded income for that timeframe.
Prupis reported that $60,000 is being sought from the township this year to meet the library’s budget, although an additional $30,000 would allow cost of living increases for library staff.
Senior Clerk Donna Sharpe also noted the lack of library staff salary increases for several years, and that the West Orange township budget line was apparently below the county average for library spending.
All the council members expressed their ongoing support for the library. Council President Victor Cirilo, responding to Sharpe’s comments, explained that the comparisons with other districts in terms of library spending were often misleading. He said many of those towns referenced were Abbott Districts, which receive considerably more state aid to offset overall spending.
Councilwoman Michelle Casalino reinforced “we’re (the Township) not cutting the library budget.” Councilwoman McCartney added that the town has a new grant writer who is eager to work with library to help shore up additional financial support as well.
Town Chief Financial Officer John Gross further explained the budget challenges the town is experiencing. He said contracts were not in place when the budget was passed last year, and this year’s budget must compensate accordingly. A higher volume of health claims this past year also contributed to the current budget considerations. He noted that if $60,000 were allocated to the town library, it would have to be covered by a tax increase, either this year or next year.
Gross also explained that the four promotions for municipal employees referenced earlier in the evening averaged only about $3,600 each, and two additional municipal positions seeing increases were adjustments for past overtime that would no longer be incurred. The totals of all these increases were approximately $16,000.
Gross said the Township's budget approval would be delayed until the next Township Council meeting, as Town Hall is awaiting state budget approval, giving citizens more time to review and address any concerns at the next meeting.
Earlier in the evening, the West Orange High School varsity cheerleaders were acknowledged and applauded for their exceptional award-filled season. Winners of seven first-place finishes, including state and regional championships, the team went on to place sixth nationally at the Universal Cheerleaders Association competition in Orlando this past winter.
Councilman Jerry Guarino announced that the UNICO organization is partnering with the Friends of Thomas Edison National Historic Park to create a new mini park across the street from the museum on Main Street.
The centerpiece of the new venue will be a statue of Thomas Edison. The hope is that the artwork will be created by renowned sculptor, Seward Johnson, famous for his work at the Grounds for Sculpture Park in Hamilton, NJ, “The Awakening” in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and other pieces around the world.
Mike Brick, chair of the West Orange Environmental Commission, spoke of continuing plans for the West Orange Milkweed Campaign. That campaign is designed to help repopulate thousands of monarch butterflies in our area through distribution of free milkweed seed pods.
Jerry Eben of the Township Planning Board referenced the new loop and parking project at the Gregory Elementary School and asked about the progress on the drawings. CFO Gross replied that the drawings for the Gregory School project are almost complete and should be ready for a public meeting within two weeks. He said the new loop and parking are expected to be finished by September in time for the beginning of the 2016-17 school year.
The next council meeting will take place on May 24. The public is encouraged to attend.