Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, who fancies himself a PhD in something or other, and City Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti, who likes to think of herself as an educator and works as an elementary school teacher, have joined forces to strip the Niagara Falls Public Library of $92,000 in funding which, in turn, will trigger a $120,000 loss of state funding for the embattled institution.
The resulting shortfall will force the library to eliminate at least two positions, and force the LaSalle branch library to close two days a week.
“We have hit a brick wall and I think the city is going to hit its wall next year,” said Carmen Granto, president of the Niagara Falls Public Library’s Board of Trustees. “Since 2009, our budget has grown one percent. The city’s budget has grown 10 percent in that same time.”
Mr. Granto said a proposed cut to the library’s budget would result in losing its status as a regional library.
“It doesn’t make sense not to invest and triple your money,” he said. “Unless we want Medina or North Tonawanda to be the central library, we’ve got to straighten this out. What sense does it make to lose staff that you didn’t have to pay for?”
The cuts would necessitate closing the LaSalle branch two days a week. Mr. Granto said that the 1927 agreement with the Village of LaSalle that made it part of the city stipulates maintaining the library.
He said 170,000 people visited both libraries last year. “It’s a gem of the city that’s available to all the residents. They use it for job searches, getting help with taxes, people who don’t have a home, who don’t have a place to stay for a little bit. We are open to the public.”
The Earl C. Brydges main library building on Main Street downtown is about three times too large, according to Councilwoman Grandinetti.
“It’s been an albatross since day one because it wasn’t built properly,” she said. “If we could see an end and another direction it would be easier for me to justify current-to-current funding.”
Mr. Granto said the old Red Cross building was one site being considered as a new home for the library and spoke of merging the library’s artifacts collection with the Niagara Falls History Museum’s site at the new train station.
He also said there was talk to make the library its own entity and “our budget can go to a public vote up or down and it gets out of your hands.”
Library Director Sarah Potwin said the library was going to start issuing passports in an effort to generate new revenue.
“We’ll be open nights and weekends,” she said.
According to librarian Linda Giarrizzo, “For our LaSalle branch there has been talk of cutting hours by a third. There has also been talk of cutting the materials budget for both libraries–which is books, audio-visual (DVDs, CDs), and programs for adults and children.”
Library funding has been a political football in Niagara Falls for years, and was at least in part responsible for the resignations of former library directors Betty Babanouri and Michelle Petrazzoulo Dukette. Both of those resignations occurred while Dr. Dyster was mayor.
At the time of her resignation, Ms. Babanouri – who became library director when Jake Palillo was mayor – said Paul Dyster was the absolute worst mayor ever when it came to library relations.