PLATTSBURGH — City of Plattsburgh councilors rejected a request to fund a popular computer center at the library for the rest of the year, sparking frustration from one councilor.
“This is a council that will approve travel requests for thousands of dollars without any discussion, and this is for $18,000, which is just a small fraction of our $54 million budget, and we spend 20 minutes on this,” Councilor Mark Tiffer (D-Ward 2) said Thursday evening.
GRANT RUNNIING OUT
Plattsburgh Public Library Board Finance Committee Chairman John Prim was asking the city for $18,000 to fund the computer center for the rest of this year.
The center was formed two years ago when the library got a $240,000 grant from the state. The money was used to purchase about a dozen computers and hire two employees on a contract basis.
The center offers resume preparation, job searching, training, education and other services to help those seeking work.
The grant money runs out at the end of this month, and the library needed the $18,000 to cover expenses for the rest of this year.
Prim said they are seeking another grant to keep the program going, but it could be several months before they know if they are going to be approved.
The library has struggled financially in recent years. Last December, facing a potential $150,000 shortfall for 2012, the board opted to cut four employees.
The jobs were saved when the board and union agreed to a plan for a four-year contract with no raises, a 15-percent across-the-board increase in health-insurance payments and reducing the work week from $37.5 hours to 35 hours for each employee.
The plan, which was put together by Councilor Timothy Carpenter (D-Ward 1), who is liaison to the library, also called for the city give the library another $60,000 for its operating budget.
According to the 109-year-old City Charter, the city must maintain library services. The city contributes nearly $900,000 a year to the library, and the state gives about $87,000.
Councilor James Calnon (I-Ward 4) said now is a bad time to be looking for money.
“If we are going to put $18,000 into employees at the library, why not put that into our employees and not into contract employees?” Calnon said.
He also said the Library Board should have planned better for the end of the grant.
“When you get a grant, you should have a contingency for when it ends, and I don’t see that kind of preparation.”
Calnon, who is retired from the Workforce Investment Board, says that organization offers the same kind of computer services at its offices on U.S. Oval.
“I’m all for having this kind of service downtown too, but I think the WIB should be funding it, not the city taxpayers.”
Tiffer said that investing in preparing a better workforce should be a priority for the city.
“Companies like Bombardier are looking for communities with a skilled workforce, and to say no to this bridge funding is not a good idea.
“Why not give them (library) the opportunity to continue the program while they seek additional funding?”
Tiffer said he learned technology to help him gain employment through a similar computer lab at Plattsburgh Housing Authority when he was growing up.
“How can I, as someone who got that opportunity, take away the opportunity for someone else to get help?”
Contacted by the Press-Republican, Library Board President Roland Lockwood said the board will discuss ways for keeping the computer center open without the $18,000 from the city, but the library has no more money.
“The computers are ours, and they will still be there, but we might not have anyone to administer programs with them,” Lockwood said.
“It’s too bad because they got a lot of use.”
Lockwood said he does not want to see the computer center suffer, but he understands the financial situation of the city.
“There is not much we can do,” he said. “We need money for a lot of things, like the leaky roof, but you can’t have everything. Hopefully, we can get another grant.”
Councilors George Rabideau (R-Ward 3) and Chris Jackson (D-Ward 6), along with Calnon, voted against giving the library the $18,000, while Tiffer and Councilor Chris Case (D-Ward 5) voted in favor of it.
Carpenter was representing the city at a memorial service for POWs and MIAs and was not at the meeting.
Mayor Donald Kasprzak said he did not favor giving the library the money.
“The city simply cannot afford this in its present financial situation,” he said.
“I hope the Library Board would consider absorbing the responsibilities for the computer center.”
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