Support the Future of the Watchung Library
with Community Center
Lately some Council members are considering that a book drop at the fireman's exempt hall would take the place of a library in town. A book drop in an empty room is not a library. 'Community center' staff would have to be paid at borough expense. And costly renovations would not be eligible for the state matching grant money! This scheme could end up costing so much more than a library, now and in the future! And it wouldn't offer much as a shelter during emergencies. However if the library were reconstructed with adequate community meeting space, it could serve all of the needs for Watchung – library services, meeting space for groups, and full staffing (280 staff hours per week), including staffing and internet during storm outages at no cost to the borough.
Somerset County Library System pays for full staffing, materials, programs and technology in our building, the town pays nothing toward salaries, materials, etc. These are valued at well over $1 million in received value for the borough. That's a lot to give up, with nothing added in return and no reduction in county tax.
The Watchung Borough Council voted 5-1 to close our local library, and explore selling off that property in the middle of town to the highest bidder for some unspecified commercial purpose. They flatly refused to offer a referendum question on the November ballot to gauge residents' sentiments on the matter.
We are your neighbors, and we value the importance of having a library with community meeting space in OUR borough that meets the needs of OUR citizens. It is essential that we offer residents all the many educational services of a local library, for everyone from children through senior citizens. Our Council has said we can just go to another town for library services. We feel that loss would diminish our community and take an important resource from our children. A full-service modern library would also serve as a useful place to shelter and access the internet during power outages, hurricanes and snowstorms.
• 2012 - Watchung voters turned down a referendum for a larger library/community center. Following that vote, Borough Council pursued plans for a smaller library with community space to meet the needs of Watchung residents and keep a library in town.
• 2014 – The Watchung Borough Council passed a resolution earmarking $1.5 million toward renovating or reconstructing the library, and dedicated $600,000 from an existing bond ordinance toward the Watchung Library.
• In 2016, over 49,000 items were borrowed from Watchung Library. Collectively, the library held 412 programs attended by more than 6,100 people and hosted 393 meetings. Foot traffic is regularly 3,000 people per month. Watchung has the highest circulation rate per square foot of any Somerset County library!
• 2017 – The $125 million Bond Referendum to rebuild public libraries was passed by Watchung residents. The State of New Jersey is offering money for library construction matched dollar-for-dollar through a grant–reducing costs up to half; this is not a loan, it is free money. Berkeley Heights and Warren are similar towns applying for money through this same program, and are confident about receiving grants. Long Hill and Warren were awarded grants the last time the state offered such aid. These are towns very similar to Watchung; there's no reason to think Watchung wouldn't also receive a grant.
• Council hired architects who completed preliminary plans for Council to reconstruct Watchung Library on its current site, with different options costing $1.9 to $3.1 million. The ﬂexible space would be between 8,000 and 9,500 square feet and offer a community meeting space for community groups and storm shelter. The architect would seek HUD grants as well as the state library aid. Council should firm up building plans and apply for the state funds, which will be awarded beginning next month. Time is of the essence!
• Watchung Library reconstruction could cost the average homeowner approximately $58 per year, based on a $2 million bond, and could be much less with state funding.
• Watchung taxpayers currently pay $827,480 per year for access to the Somerset County Library System. We will continue to pay this library tax with OR without a library in our town. Watchung currently receives a rebate for hosting a library, and a portion of patrons' ﬁnes—without a library those monies will go to other towns.
Please consider signing the library petition, and also write to let Council members know that our families want a full-service library in Watchung