Perched as we are at the East Hampton Star office with a view of the comings and goings at the library next door, we see how broadly it is used by a spectrum of residents and visitors. Indeed, libraries now are about a lot more than books — they have become de facto community centers. Voters registered in the East Hampton, Springs, and Wainscott School Districts will be asked for their approval of a $311,000 library budget increase on Saturday. Voting is at the library from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Last year’s budget totaled about $3.4 million; the 2024 figure would be about $3.7 million.
About two-thirds of the money the library plans to spend next year would come from taxes; the balance would be mostly from anticipated private donations. A strong turnout in favor of the budget will be needed to vote yes. State law requires that two-thirds of those voting approve substantial tax-rate growth. New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli set the coming year’s tax-hike cap at 2 percent; the library looks to increase its share of property tax bills by about 9.8 percent. Last year, voters came out in favor of a 5-percent tax-levy increase. Unlike town and village boards, which can exceed the annual cap themselves, school districts and libraries must get the public’s buy-in.
We believe that the roughly $13.50 extra an average household would have to pay is justified by expenses beyond the library’s control. Most of it would go to salaries and costs related to staff, such as Social Security, benefits, and insurance. The other areas getting more money in the 2024 plan would be public programs for both children and adults, the building and grounds, and back-office costs. The amount to cover research databases subscriptions would also go up.
So who uses the library and for what? The answer is just about every demographic you could imagine, from small children and their caregivers to homebound people who enjoy its digital services. The library is a place to study for exams or work on that novel. Its Long Island Collection is perhaps the premier archive of early material of all manner in the region.
Interlibrary loans can put a desired book in a patron’s hand in a matter of days. For those not facile with computers, library staff can help. There are lectures and live music, as well as free flower and vegetable seeds. One can learn to be a better driver or how to start keeping a scrapbook. For many people, the library is simply a place to hang out. And let’s not forget the excellent, inexpensive coffee, tea, and hot chocolate available from a Starbucks machine at the circulation desk. These reasons and more are why the library deserves a vote of confidence on Saturday.