Last year the Pearl River Public Library received $3,922 in funding, according to director Kathy Rose. Also last year, the Pearl River Public Library had to pay $3,756 for the MTA payroll tax.
“It just doesn’t make very much sense,” she said.
Last year, certain business entities, self-employed tax payers and all public and private schools were exempt from the tax, but libraries were not. Last week, State Sen. David Carlucci co-sponsored legislation that would exempt all libraries from the tax heading forward so things like what happened last year to Pearl River won’t happen again.
On Thursday morning, he joined representatives from many local libraries at the Nanuet Public Library to talk about why he thinks it’s important to repeal the tax for libraries. He was joined by Chairwoman of the Rockland County Legislature Harriet Cornell, New York State Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, Executive Director Robert Hubsher of the Ramapo Catskill Library System and representatives from libraries in New City, Pearl River, Valley Cottage and more.
“It makes no sense that if we’re having property taxes paying the libraries, we have state aid going toward our libraries and in many cases from 50 percent to over 100 percent of state aid to libraries is going to pay the MTA payroll tax,” Carlucci said Thursday.
Libraries with payrolls less than $1.25 million will be exempt from the tax this year, but that still leaves Rockland with five libraries required to pay: Finkelstein Memorial Library in Spring Valley, Haverstraw King’s Daughters Public Library, Nanuet Public Library, New City Free Library and Nyack Public Library.
Ellen Ellis, business manager for the New City Library, said they pay about $9,000 a year with the tax.
"If they abolish the MTA tax, we may save between $4-5,000," said Gretchen Bell, director of the Nanuet Library.*
Carlucci said it’s important to make sure all libraries are free from the burden of the MTA payroll tax.
“In the past five years, just since 2007, we’ve seen an increase in the usage of libraries,” he said. “I had the honor of serving on the New City Library Board of Trustees quite a few years ago, and know that in a time of economic downturn, that’s the time that we need our libraries the most. The men and women behind me have really dedicated themselves and their careers to making sure that we have some of the best libraries in the nation right here in Rockland County.”
Zebrowski talked about the added importance of libraries today because of all they offer.
“The library systems in this day and age are really morphing and evolving, and I think actually becoming more important to the community at large,” he said. “Not only is it just books now, but people come here to use a lot of the multimedia resources, to use the computers for people who don’t have internet at home, schoolchildren as more and more of our schools utilize internet learning and internet classes. This is the place our community comes. This type of a tax is not only onerous, it’s just unconscionable.”
Cornell said there’s historical evidence that libraries go back more than 4,000 years and they’re some of the most democratic entities in the community because the only requirement to get involved is interest.
“While the role and the description of libraries has changed dramatically over the centuries, their value and importance in a democratic society remains unchanged,” she said. “Libraries are the epicenter of information in our communities. They provide access to the internet together with an extraordinary wealth of reference materials, archival records and, of course, books of every genre and taste imaginable all available to the public free of charge.”
Along with repealing the tax, Carlucci called for a “comprehensive forensic audit of the MTA,” which he added has a budget larger than some states.
“The biggest problem with it is you can ask members of the board of the MTA, and they can’t tell you where all the assets are, they can’t tell you why they’ve paid 400 million dollars in overtime last year,” Carlucci said. “These are the problems that we have. We have to finally have a comprehensive forensic audit, and we can find what we’ve estimated would be about $1.5 million for the whole MTA system that we could take that money, give it back to the libraries and make sure they can put it to good use.”
Correction: Gretchen Bell said that the Nanuet Library would save $4-5,000 not $7,000