The Riverhead library's main floor. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead Central School District residents will be asked to approve Riverhead Free Library’s proposed $4.7 million operating budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year at a library budget vote and trustee election on April 4.

The proposed operating budget represents a $534,789 (12.77%) spending increase over the current year’s operating budget.

It calls for a tax levy increase of $482,289, which exceeds the state-imposed tax levy limit by $388,271, a 9% increase after adjustments allowed by the state for tax base growth. That works out to $5.98 per $1,000 of taxable assessed value, according to budget documents released by the library. An “average” house with an assessed value of $44,512 (a market value of just over $450,000) would pay an annual library tax of $266.17, an increase of $29.23 per year.

Like every entity in the public or private sector, the library has seen expenses go up across the board, Riverhead Free Library Director Kerrie McMullen-Smith said.

“I just hope that everybody realizes, like everyone else, we’re feeling the economy,” she said in an interview this week. “The cost of all our contracts to keep the building running, to keep the building clean, to keep the grounds maintained. All of that has gone up for us along with the cost of electricity and natural gas. I know everyone feels that, and we feel it too,” McMullen-Smith said.

In addition to shouldering increased overhead, the library will upgrade and redesign its website in the coming year to better serve digital users. The web development cost will run approximately $25,000. The library has also outsourced its network administration function to an IT contractor at an annual cost of $67,000, a new expense item in the upcoming fiscal year. The salary and payroll expenses for that staff position were eliminated from the budget.

Personnel costs make up roughly 67% of library expenses in the proposed budget. These include salary expenses of $2.16 million, and retirement, health insurance and payroll tax expenses of $1 million. Employee salary expenses would increase 1.72%, while the cost of the library’s contributions to the state retirement system and health insurance premiums saw much steeper increases, 12.8% and nearly 16% respectively.

Library staff are the engine of the organization, keeping it running and making it possible to provide the services and programs that 25,000 library patrons relied on in 2022, McMullen-Smith said.

“It’s important to remember big picture and all the services that are available to you with your library card,” McMullen-Smith said. “It’s really an excellent value for the cost.”

In 2022, Riverhead Free Library patrons checked out 73,867 books and magazines and 32,000 DVDs and audiobooks on disks, according to a public budget presentation McMullen-Smith gave at the library on March 8. RFL cardholders downloaded 55,188 e-books and audiobooks using the library’s Libby app, 2,221 movies using the Kanopy app, and 3,412 magazines using the Flipster app. Patrons attended 18,557 programs last year, searched the library’s databases 32,915 times and were assisted by the library’s reference department 36,655 times. The library’s meeting rooms were used 1,379 last year.

A wealth of resources available at the library and online are available with a library card, which is available at no charge to all residents of the school district, McMullen-Smith said. The estimated value of services and materials accessed by Riverhead patrons last year topped $3.6 million, she said.

In addition to literacy programs for children, youth and adults, the library offers programs that provide income tax preparation assistance, a Family Service League social worker, veterans resources, smoking cessation classes, SNAP counseling, and health talks by medical professionals from Peconic Bay Medical Center. It also hosts Long Island Cares and Island Harvest food distributions for seniors and families in need.

The library pays special attention to the dominant age demographic in Riverhead with a robust array of programs and services for seniors, McMullen-Smith said. It offers everything from Medicare assistance, tax preparation assistance, health and wellness programs geared to seniors, senior advocacy services from the Suffolk County Office of the Aging, books by mail for the homebound, technology assistance, and blood pressure kits for borrowing. It also offers singles social events specifically for seniors every month. In addition, there are a variety of clubs, such as Scrabble, mahjong, knitting and bridge, as well as outings, museum passes and bus trips.

The library hosts regular concerts and author talks, as well as fine art and history exhibits.

“It’s really a community hub,” McMullen-Smith said.

Nobody likes raising taxes, the director acknowledged. “We don’t take this lightly,” she said. The trustees went over the budget numbers very carefully and provide oversight throughout the year.

Collectively, she said, the trustees and staff are all passionate about the library’s mission.

The library is hosting a meet-and-greet event for library trustee candidates on March 29 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. There are three candidates for three seats, each with three-year terms. An incumbent trustee is running to fill the remaining year of a three-year term, following the resignation of another board member.

For information on the trustee candidates, visit the library’s website.

The library budget vote and trustee election will take place at the library on Tuesday, April 4 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

When voters go to the polls on the library budget proposal, they are technically voting on a contract between the Riverhead Central School District and the Riverhead library management association. The library is not a separate taxing district. The library vote has traditionally been held separately from the school district budget vote, as allowed by state law.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor and attorney. Her work has been recognized with numerous journalism awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She was also honored in 2020 with a NY State Senate Woman of Distinction Award for her trailblazing work in local online news. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.