New Jersey libraries continue to wait for funding approved by voters in 2017

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More than a year after the New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act was approved in a public ballot question, the release of $125 million remains stalled as state officials continue to write and review the regulations needed to implement the spending.

Regulations need to be finalized before funds authorized in the bond act may be released to public libraries. The libraries will receive grants for renovations and enhancements after completing a formal application process.

During the general election in November 2017, voters supported the $125 million bond act and authorized funding for libraries that would seek to make facility improvements.

Now, 14 months after the election, the voters’ wishes have not been enacted into law and library directors across the state are awaiting the release of the application that will have to be completed before grants may be released.

In an interview, New Jersey State Librarian Mary Chute said, “We are certainly in sympathy with the frustration communities are feeling” as they wait for the grant application to become available. “We feel their pain, especially after all the promotion (of the 2017 public question) and with the passing of time people are disheartened.”

She said efforts to enact what voters approved began immediately after the 2017 election.

“People were surprised when Gov. Chris Christie signed this,” Chute said. “Everyone was enthusiastic in their own community. People began raising money on the local level.”

Chute said New Jersey State Library employee Tina Keresztury, who returned to work after retiring, developed multiple drafts of proposed regulations by March 2018. Eventually more than a dozen drafts were completed, but “we have been on hold since then,” she said.

Chute said that with a new administration taking control of state government in 2018, she did not expect the New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act to be “at the top of the government’s agenda.”

Chute said she is hoping the proposed regulations can begin to advance through several state entities which need to approve them before an application for funding is made available to library administrators.

“I know of particular communities where money was set aside in a budget for this (bond act),” Chute said, adding that in all cases a library will have to match the funding it receives from the state.

In October 2018, Chute said, representatives of the New Jersey State Library and representatives of Thomas Edison State University in Trenton, which is part of the process, met with representatives of seven partner agencies.

She said that as of today, “we do not have the answers or responses” to items that were raised for consideration at the state level.

Asked to comment on the issue, Judi Tolchin, director of the Monmouth County Library, which operates branches throughout the county, said, “The Monmouth County Library is delighted the voters of New Jersey approved the New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act in November 2017.

“Libraries are essential to their communities and it is important for them to improve facilities and access to their buildings so all may enjoy the multitude of services they offer.

“It is my understanding the New Jersey State Library is working diligently through the legislative process to make funds available to libraries. The Monmouth County Library anxiously awaits news that applications are available.

“While libraries are waiting for the funding, many like the Monmouth County Library are working on plans to secure the necessary local matching funds,” Tolchin said.

Once the regulations regarding the bond act are in place, an application process for funding will be followed, Chute said. Entities that apply for a grant will have to demonstrate they have the funds to match the money they will receive from the state.

During the process, the state librarian and administrators at Thomas Edison State University will review the applications. The applications will then be forwarded to the Legislature for final approval.

According to the New Jersey State Library website, 970,334 voters supported the New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act in November 2017.

In October 2018, a survey was administered to public libraries in New Jersey. With 159 responses, 86 percent of responding library administrators said their facilities are planning to expand or undergo renovations in the next two years.

Asked if libraries would pursue expansions and renovations without financial assistance from the bond act, nearly 68 percent of responding library administrators said they were not certain if they would continue with plans to expand and enhance facilities without financial assistance.