The following letter was sent to the Jones Library Trustees and The Amherst Town Council on August 27,2022.
I write as a former Deputy Mayor from Irvington, New York where in 1990 our village purchased the dormant Lord and Burnham Building and converted this property into space for the Irvington Library on the first floor and affordable housing on the second floor. The decision to purchase the building was based on a village-wide referendum.
Irvington borders Tarrytown where in the 1930’s, during the Depression, Elizabeth Warner donated the funds to build a library for Tarrytown and North Tarrytown. Elizabeth purposefully placed the library on the border so both towns could share it and to send a message of cooperation between towns and shared services. As an outsider, one can see so many towns and institutions in and around Amherst living inches apart but not saving costs by sharing services and buildings as Elizabeth Warner counseled. Also in 1939, John D. Rockefeller paid for a professional study to detail the benefits of shared services and projects for his neighboring Hudson River villages.
I love libraries but the endless struggles for the Jones Library are out of proportion to the financial limits of our town because Amherst faces enormous capital costs for other equally needed building projects. Are these costs even defined? Can we say that every resident knows of this incoming impact on their property taxes? Perhaps this data has been shared but I know none of my condo neighbors know anything about these serious financial costs heading their way. If the Jones Library were the only building project in the town then this would be an entirely different issue. The argument recently offered that the Library’s financial needs are above and separate from the town’s donor and tax base capacity is simply crazy and selfish.
Amherst deserves a full comprehensive financial review with liberal – not low ball – estimates of all the financial costs for the Library, Fire House, DPW Yard and Schools. I am not a tax hawk or a tax zealot but the reality of these costs will be significant and deserve illumination. These costs have to be translated into an actual dollar figure on a resident’s tax bill. Additionally, right or wrong, your fault or no one’s fault, there has to be an acknowledgement that we are paying the price for the decades of ignoring legitimate capital needs and now, the accumulation of these projects forces everyone to spend less, spend together and within a defined budget without looting your endowment, asking the Town for additional funds or asking yet again for donor dollars which will deny donor dollars for other needy causes.
More than any civic institution, a library should be aware and practice a balanced and proportionate demand on the community chest for financial support. We cannot have “every man for himself” and “first come, first served”. Or as we see so many needs in our community we have to ask how can we spend our tax dollars so that as many of these needs are equally addressed. Note that the Irvington Library project has affordable apartments on the second floor.
In the late 1980’s Irvington, NY fought over a municipal swimming pool. Debating the size, its features, indoor vs. outdoor, academic, athletic or just recreational use? These debates went on and on. During this time, the Village of Dobbs Ferry built a basic municipal pool. It has been packed with families ever since. To which Irvington Mayor Reg Marra said “Irvington talks while Dobbs Ferry swims”. So to carry this anecdote further: Is Hadley with their new library happily reading while Amherst spends years to build their library? Subject to correction, I believe that the cost for the Hadley Library was $18M and the Amherst costs are ramping up toward $40M?
Terry Masterson is the former Deputy Mayor of Irvington, NY and a resident of Amherst.