WEST ORANGE, NJ - Residents expressed their views on the importance of West Orange’s Public Library, just days before the town’s budget hearing that is set for March 12, at Tuesday’s Township Council meeting.

In what was one of the most packed crowds the municipal chambers had seen in years, West Orange residents came up to the podium in droves to offer their opinions on what needs to be done with the library. With word of the budget being reduced in regard to the public library, the general theme of most residents’ speeches was to maintain, if not improve, the library, rather than to take away from it.

Before allowing public comment, Council President Victor Cirilo reminded residents of the process that goes into the budget hearing.

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 “Administration provides us with a proposed budget,” he said. “The town council assesses that budget and makes recommendations, and the process moves forward.”

Cirilo added that the township is required to fund a library every year by state law, but said a reduced budget allocated toward the library may lead to reductions in the facilities including the elimination of part-time jobs and the cutting back of Sunday hours from 6 hours to 4 hours.

Cirilo also acknowledged the many improvements the library needs such as bathroom renovations, the fixing of the leaking roof, and more.

Margaret O’Hara, a resident of West Orange for 43 years, spoke about what the library meant to her.

“We raised our sons here, and they were active attendees in all the summer programs at the library,” she said. 

O’Hara defined the library as “an antidote of ignorance” and asked the township not to diminish it or its services.

One mother of twin girls said that the library is “an oasis” that works as an alternative to children constantly being “screen-fed” information through the world’s rapidly growing technology. 

Another resident, whose daughter splits time between West Orange and Livingston, spoke openly about how although Livingston has a much smaller population, he views it to have a “superior” library facility. He called the West Orange library a place that should be made a focal point of the township.

A particularly impassioned West Orange High School student was open about library’s impact on her life.

“When I moved to West Orange five years ago, I didn’t know anyone here, so I mainly kept to myself,” she said. She added that it was through this isolation that she discovered the library and became a frequent visitor. “There’s no knowledge if you don’t have books,” she said. “They’re the most important thing.”

Other residents spoke about the library’s value as a low-cost activity for children to enjoy, while a senior citizen spoke about how the library was her way of having access to a computer and DVDs she can rent for free.

In one of the most crowd-moving speeches, a resident spoke about the underprivileged who “seek the library as an opportunity for free information,” and warned that without libraries, “the United States would become like Third World Countries.”

Mayor Robert Parisi, who was in attendance for the meeting, made clear the difficult situation he and the township officials are in.

“Be careful what you wish for when you want to be an elected official, because this is what makes it hard,” he said. “Of course the library is a part of our town. The problem is so is our police, recreation, health, department, and fire department.”

Parisi said that a lack of money is the main issue with this year’s budget, which has to have budget cuts in various departments. He pointed out that, despite 70 jobs being cut since 2006, taxes continue to rise.

Parisi, who has a degree in literature, also acknowledged the importance of libraries.   

“The library is a priority, but the township has a lot of priorities,” he said. “We have to operate within the means of the dollars they have.”

However, the mayor said he didn’t believe all hope was lost.

“We’re looking forward over the next couple of months to work with the council and see if we can resolve this, and get some additional funding,” he said.

Councilman Jerry Guarino said that he and all of his colleagues value the library.

“It isn’t a ‘step child’ to us,” he said, before acknowledging that there would be some tough calls to make at the hearing. Guarino encouraged residents to attend the budget meeting so they could get an idea of the process.

Despite saying she’d been an advocate for the library for quite some time, Councilwoman Susan McCartney explained the ramifications of increasing library funding.

“If we were to extend the funding for the library, we’re looking at additional tax dollars,” she said.

The budget hearing will be taking place on Saturday, March 12 at 9 a.m. in Town Hall’s Council Chamber.

In other news, all resolutions were passed at the meeting, with 73-16, 74-16, and 79-16 all being pulled by Councilman Joe Krakoviak, who voted, “No.” on 73-16 and 79-16. More information on what the resolutions entailed can be found HERE.

The next Township Council meeting is scheduled for March 22 at 6:30 p.m. Residents are encouraged to attend.