Ballston Library and City Council head for split to resolve dispute – The Daily Gazette

CITY OF BALLSTON — The Community Library and Ballston City Council may be on the verge of finding a solution to a dispute that has been going on for more than two years. The public row between the Town of Ballston Community Library Board and Town Supervisor Eric Connolly escalated earlier this week when the Library Board aired its grievances to the City Council in a message shared via email and social media. And while this communication did little to restore trust between the two parties, it may have brought them closer to finalizing an arrangement that would sever ties between the two bodies once and for all.

The disagreement ultimately comes down to control of the library’s funding and operations. Licensed in 1957 by the state Department of Education, the library is governed by a seven-member board of trustees. But library trustees are appointed rather than elected, and the library budget is filtered through the city budget. Since taking office in 2020, Connolly has questioned the power of unelected trustees to control library finances and operations, which the library board says has interfered with their ability to run the library.

Now, both sides say they support City Council passing a resolution in favor of updating the library charter so that library trustees are elected rather than appointed. The charter would also be updated so that the library’s budget would be subject to a public vote.

Such an arrangement would allow the two bodies to operate independently and end a relationship that has seen the two bodies operate collaboratively without incident for more than half a century, according to Steven Zarelli, chairman of the board of directors of the library. Official charter amendment will require action by the state legislature.

“As long as our [town] comptroller continues to be satisfied with its monthly financial reports, I will consider this option,” Connolly said in a written statement regarding the charter amendment.

Zarelli said he would believe the charter amendment resolution is coming when he sees it in writing.

“The say-to-do ratio has been very low,” Zarelli said.

In addition to asking for support for a charter update, the library board’s public message called for the city to pay the library the full fee and balance of library funds – instead of distribute the money gradually – and allow the library to move forward with a building project that received $107,000 in state grants. The library is supported by its own tax district, which residents consider a separate line item on their tax bills outside the village of Ballston Spa, according to the library board.

Zarelli said the library applied in 2019 for a state grant to build a local history room and update LED lighting with approval from the previous city administration. But during Connolly’s administration, the library board encountered roadblocks to the project, Zarelli said.

The city council told the library board it had no interest in participating in the construction, so the library board went ahead with the project on its own, Zarelli said. However, the library board has no written record of the city council authorizing the library board to proceed with the project independently.

Connolly said the city council never granted permission.

“We are waiting for the library to acknowledge a resolution that the city has an owner/representative to oversee the project and materials before approving the funds, which should have been requested and appropriated three years ago,” Connolly said in a statement. “The board of directors accepted a bid from a construction company for a major renovation without the city (owner of the building) being named in the contract. He also indicated that he had sufficient funds for the renovation when those funds were not budgeted or appropriated by the city council. »

In recent months, the city council has put up roadblocks to the project, including asking the library board to hire a $20,000 engineering firm to oversee the work of Butler, Rowland and Mays Architects, which is the company the library has already hired to manage the project, according to Zarelli.

Zarelli said Connolly also informed the library board that he had never passed a resolution to properly receive grant funding. Zarelli said the library board has since taken that action.

“They’re just papering us to death,” Zarelli said.

But Connolly said the library board’s “missteps” with the project raised red flags.

“I believe (as do our City Comptroller, our City Attorney, and members of City Council) that the Library Board made serious procedural errors when it applied for a grant from the NYS that required a balance of matching library fund that was never budgeted or requested from the city. council,” Connolly said in a written statement. “Upon further investigation, the city discovered that these grant funds were commingled with other accounts rather than being deposited in a separate account for a capital project (in violation of proper accounting practices).”

Zarelli said the funds have since been separated.

The library board is supported by the Southern Adirondack Library System, a voluntary association of 34 public libraries in Hamilton, Saratoga, Warren and Washington counties. A library board is granted operational authority over a library whether members are elected or appointed, said Sara Dallas, director of the Southern Adirondack Library System.

“Administrators are the group that is responsible for the library,” she said.

Dallas pointed to the “Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State,” which sets out the code of conduct trustees accept when signing the oath of office, including that “a member has the responsibility to ensure that the institution’s resources are devoted to the fulfillment of its mission. »

But Connolly said the city council asked the New York State Comptroller’s Office to determine which body has ultimate financial and operational authority over the library under the current charter.

“We are currently preparing a request to the Office of the State Comptroller seeking an opinion on whether the library needs City Council approval to appropriate the balance of unbudgeted funds. We believe they do, but we will abide by SCO guidelines, whatever they may be,” Connolly said.

Both sides said they hoped for a workable resolution soon.

“We are looking for an amicable solution, and all we want is for the city to be open and transparent and communicate with us,” Zarelli said. “It’s like pulling teeth, and we don’t know why.”

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

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