Public libraries are a key element in promoting literacy and intellect, building a community and providing free and open access to a vast amount of information the public would otherwise face challenge and expense in obtaining. Gloucestercurrently has two public libraries where the community may access only a small portion of information actually available. The quantity of information contained in public libraries is highly dependent on local community financial investment. Upon glancing at the amount of money Gloucester annually invests in our public libraries, it is evident their importance to the community is realized by our elected leaders. Unfortunately upon a closer look at how the money is actually spent it becomes clearly evident the taxpayers are getting very little return on their investment. In fact, we are throwing away several million dollars to lease library spaces instead of owning them.
This year the Board of Supervisors (BOS) budgeted $996,982 to operate our two public libraries. $577,630 is for salaries and benefits and $253,226 for rent, leaving only $166,126 for library operations. The larger of our two libraries is located in the MainStreet Center and owned by the Gloucester Main Street Preservation Trust (GMSPT). Rental of this 24,000 square foot library space initially began in 2004 for a period of 10 years, with four five year renewal options for up to a total of 30 years. The BOS renewed the lease for five more years in 2013 which became effective in 2014. This year we will pay the GMSPT approximately $190,000 in lease associated payments to rent the library and among other things, to pay 23% of the property tax charged on the entire Main Street Center. Our second library, located in the York River Crossing Shopping Center, is rented to Gloucester under a similar lease agreement. This year the People will pay approximately $63,000 in lease associated payments for this 3,916 square ft. library space.
Should Gloucester continue leasing the Main Street library for the full 30 years, the taxpayers will have paid the GMSPT close to $6 million in rent. A new 24,000 square foot library constructed at $2.50 per square ft. would cost the taxpayers approximately $6 million and would convert the annual rent obligation from $190,000, to an annual library capital improvement fund contribution of approximately $50,000; rendering an eventual annual savings of at least $140,000. Similar, but smaller scale results could also be realized by constructing a second library instead of continuing to rent. Over the years Gloucester’s administration and elected leaders have made some deals and decisions that have proven to be contrary to the long term financial interests of the overall community. Just think, if the earlier decision makers had truly acted in the community’s best interest, they would have built a new library and the benefits and savings of such would be enjoyed financially stress free today. Unfortunately, we now appear to be locked into a carefully designed financial cycle that will be very hard to break without a significant cash windfall, as we currently cannot afford to rent and build a new library at the same time. The current BOS has an obligation to address this issue and initiate a process that will result in construction of the larger of two new libraries within the next six years, with construction of a satellite branch beginning not far behind. Hopefully the current BOS becomes the Board that did what was best for the entire Gloucester community; otherwise we will just keep paying more for library rent than for information quantity and quality.
Kenneth E. Hogge, Sr.