Sharon Furgason is the director of the McCowan Memorial Library, and it has been a stable fixture on Pitman Avenue since the early 1960s. However, since the economic downturn in 2008, Furgason has had to watch the public funding for her library dwindle, in tandem with the library funding law in the state, which links support to the average property values in the community.
The issue is that Pitman’s property values fell almost 6 percent last year, which led to a library funding cut of around $20k.
The reduction was difficult for Furgason and her staff. In October, the library had to stop purchasing new books until the funding was revived.
She said that it was extremely hard for her and her library staff to make use of the budget they had last year. She said that they had to stop ordering new books entirely.
However, last week she got some news that raised her spirits a little. She learned about a legislative measure that would make it easy for tax filers in New Jersey to give money to local libraries.
The bill would add a section on New Jersey income tax returns that would ask tax filers if they would like to make a donation to support their local libraries.
The assemblywoman who sponsored the bill with a colleague said that her family wasn’t able to buy an encyclopedia when she was young, so they had to go to the library. She said that part of the reason that she crafted the bill was because she wanted that opportunity to remain for children across the state.
The bill was approved last Thursday in a committee meeting.
The finer details of how the funds would be allocated have yet to be figured out, the assemblywoman said in an interview.
In the past, she has sponsored bills that would let taxpayers donate to the Girl Scouts and the Boys and Girls Club through their state income tax returns.
Furgason said that her library would have been even worse off if she had not dipped into the library savings account, which was amassed primarily though member donations. She cited on especially big donation in memory of a resident in Pitman as the main reason that the library was able to begin purchasing new books again.
She said that you have to get creative in an economy like this.
Library funding fluctuates from year to year, according to how the real estate market is faring.
When the property values go down, you see a huge reduction in library staff, hour cuts, buys, and materials, just anything a library pays for, a data coordinator for a state library in New Jersey said. He said that things had been going down a lot since the economic recession.
Because the property values have dropped across the state of the of the last four tax years, it has been harder for libraries to buy books. A lot of library system directors have had to be very cautious about purchases.
Furgason said that if everyone in the town could donate a couple of bucks that it would be really helpful.