Amsterdam Free Library seeks tax levy to fund operations

According to John Naple, president of the Amsterdam Free Library board of trustees, the library is in a financial struggle, referring to the situation as a “death spiral.” Naple appeared before the Greater Amsterdam School District Board of Education at Wednesday’s regular meeting to speak in support of a proposition that will appear on the May 17 GASD budget ballot which would establish a tax levy to fund the library.

The library currently operates on an annual budget of $300,000 that is partially funded by the City of Amsterdam, the Town of Amsterdam, and New York State. The city provides the library with $60,000 a year, the town provides $15,000 a year, and the state provides $7,000. The remaining $218,000 that makes up the library’s budget comes from donations, grants, fundraisers, and the principle of the library’s savings.

Naple explained that the budget for the Amsterdam library is relatively small when compared to other local libraries. According to Naple, the budget for the Johnstown library is $400,000 a year, and the budget for the Gloversville library is $500,000, although they serve smaller populations than the Amsterdam library.

In accordance with Education Law Section 259, the library is submitting a proposition that seeks to transfer two-thirds of the library’s operating budget to the school district by authorizing annual tax levies of $200,000 for the Amsterdam Free Library and $10,000 for the Fort Hunter Free Library.

Naple said, “These are the two libraries that are within the Greater Amsterdam School District. We are on the same proposition together. The Fort Hunter library has been on propositions before, and they have failed to have their proposition pass. This year we have combined with them. This is our first time with trying this.”

According to Naple, the cost to GASD residents to fund the libraries would be 21 cents per $1,000 of true assessed property value. Naple explained, “ If you had a $100,000 house, according to the assessed value of it, you have to pay $21 annually.”

Naple sees the library as an essential city service, saying, “Just like our schools, our army, our roads, our police, our firemen, I think we need a library.”

He also sees the library as an asset to the community that has not diminished in the modern age, saying, “The computer has not done away with the demand for library services, but it has increased the necessity for library services with our knowledge based economy. Our generation needs to sustain the library to have an informed democracy for future generations. Our Amsterdam Free Library is part of the solution for Amsterdam’s well being and economic development. Our Amsterdam Free Library is a vision for a better tomorrow.”

Naple explained that the library is no longer a “vault filled with old books” and described the other materials that the library offers, such as movies, music, audio books, periodicals, and inter-library loans in the form of e-books. The library also offers a variety of classes and programs for children and adults.

Library Director Nicole Hemsley also addressed the board and said that she would be speaking at the Amsterdam High School’s faculty meeting in April as she is looking for ways to collaborate with the school district on class projects utilizing the equipment she had acquired for the library’s Makerspace.

On the library’s website, the Makerspace is described as “a place where one can create, invent, tinker, explore and discover using a variety of tools and materials.” A sewing class is being offered this month where teaching individuals how to make market bags, or if they prefer people are encouraged to bring projects that they are already working on that the instructor can assist them with.

Naple explained that it is much easier to acquire grant funding for projects and materials than it is for operational purposes to cover the cost of utilities and salaries, which is why the proposition has become necessary.

In recent years, the library has seen growth. According to Hemsley, the Champagne Masquerade fundraising event had tripled attendance from the first year into its second year this past October. Naple said that the library is trying to attract more students and children to participate in activities like the Sunday Reading Group and a preschool program that challenges children to read 1,000 books before they reach kindergarten.

In addition to enabling the library to continue operating, Naple expressed his belief that a stable income through the $200,000 tax levy would allow the library to increase the programs and services they provide to the community.

Ashley Onyon

Ashley Onyon is a graduate of the journalism program at SUNY Albany. She has contributed articles to The Mohawk Valley Independent and the annual journal Upstream.