Library official backs salary request

Although former town of Massena officials said they couldn’t do it, the president of the Massena Public Library Board of Trustees cites several sources that say library officials could have provided pay increases to part-time employees as requested by library Director Elaine Dunne. Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — Although former town officials said they couldn’t do it, the president of the Massena Public Library Board of Trustees cites several sources that say library officials could have provided pay increases to part-time employees as requested by library Director Elaine Dunne.

During a December meeting, Ms. Dunne told the Massena Town Board that part-time employees deserve salary increases like her and union employees. While she and union employees received increases, nothing was budgeted for the part-time employees. She wanted to give 2% salary increases this year to part-time employees by transferring funds from one account to another.

She told board members that the library wasn’t looking for more money from the town, but rather to transfer existing funds from another account to cover the increases. If she wasn’t able to transfer funds, Ms. Dunne said she could use part of her 2% salary increase for the part-time employee increases.

Ms. Dunne may make such a recommendation for board approval, said Joseph Savoca, president of the library board.

“Her recommendation was to move the money from what’s called books and periodicals to cover salary increases for the part-time workers. It amounted to $1,200 for the year,” Mr. Savoca said.

However, town board members said in December, she wasn’t able to make that transfer to cover the increases.

“It cannot be done. Your salary is set, it’s posted, it’s advertised. There can’t be any change to it. It cannot be done,” then Town Supervisor Steven D. O’Shaughnessy said. “We set the salaries based on what we felt that it should be. That’s set in stone as far as we’re concerned.”

Mr. Savoca told the town board that his board had the power to set salaries for library staff, but Mr. O’Shaughnessy disagreed.

“Our town attorney does not agree with what you perceive. That’s what he says, and he’s up on municipal law and I trust him on anything that he speaks to,” Mr. O’Shaughnessy said.

Following the meeting, Mr. Savoca cited several decisions that gave the library board the power to set the salaries.

For instance, he said, the state comptroller has said public libraries are, for most purposes, “fiscally autonomous from the sponsoring municipality,” and public library officers and employers are often not considered to be officers and employees of the sponsoring municipality.

He also noted a comptroller decision that said, while it is up to the municipal governing board to determine the amount that is appropriated to the library, the library’s board has broad authority on how that money is used, whether it is used for salaries, resources or other items.

“The library trustees decide how they want to spend the money. They have the discretion,” Mr. Savoca said.

He said a municipal governing body could also not place restrictions and limitations on the use of the funds that has been appropriated for library purposes, according to the comptroller.

For example, he said, “The library board was not bound by the categories of expenditures appearing in estimates which it submitted to the municipal governing board at budget-making time. That is, it could change the purposes of expenditures without approval of the municipality, on the theory that once appropriations had been made and the money earmarked, it became the absolute property of the library trustees, subject only to the municipal fiscal officer’s custody and the requirement that the vouchers be submitted to him for payment.”

He also cited New York state Education Law, which says that municipal library trustees have the authority to set employee salaries. Mr. Savoca said town officials don’t have that power and Mr. O’Shaughnessy “could not cite any legal justification for their position of circumventing the law and assuming that power for themselves.”

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Joseph Savoca

Education Law Article 5 University of the State of New York §226 Powers of trustees of institutions

https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/EDN/226

Library trustees have the power to appoint and fix salaries of employees.

Officers and employees. Appoint and fix the salaries of such officers and employees as they shall deem necessary who, unless employed under special contract, shall hold their offices during the pleasure of the trustees; …

Joseph Savoca

Although sometimes regarded by municipalities as a department of government, “Public libraries are, for most purposes, fiscally autonomous from the sponsoring municipality... In addition, public library officers and employees often are not considered to be officers and employees of the sponsoring municipality...” Op. State Compt. 93-15, 1993

While it is up to the municipal governing board to determine the amount to be appropriated for library purposes, library boards have broad authority relating to the expenditures of library monies. Line item appropriations for library appropriations made by a municipal governing board may be disregarded by the library board. Op. State Compt. 83-96 1983

A municipal governing body may not place restrictions and limitations upon the expenditure by the library board of trustees of funds appropriated for library purposes. Op. State Compt. 72-6, 1972

Even though a village may have appropriated money for a village public library by line items, the library board of trustees may disregard the line items and use the monies as it sees fit in administering the affairs of the library. Op. State Compt. 72-553, 1972

Unexpended library fund moneys remain the property of the library and surplus monies in a municipal library fund may be carried over from year to year and accumulated for proper library purposes as determined by the library board. Op. State Compt. 2002-7, 2002

Even before … [Education Law s259(1) was amended [L. 1973, c. 200] to authorize payment of library appropriations to treasurers of municipal libraries, we had been faced with a continuing trend in the direction of virtual autonomy of these public libraries. This trend was fueled by some court decisions in the area of collective bargaining and notices of tort claim, among others.

So it has become our position that, in budgeting matters, even where the municipal fiscal officer had custody of library appropriations, neither such fiscal officer nor the municipality’s governing board had any real control over the character of library expenses.

For example, the library board was not bound by the categories of expenditures appearing in estimates which it submitted to the municipal governing board at budget-making time. That is, it could change the purposes of expenditures without approval of the municipality, on the theory that once appropriations had been made and the money earmarked, it became the absolute property of the library trustees, subject only to the municipal fiscal officer’s custody and the requirement that the vouchers be submitted to him for payment.

Furthermore, any unexpended balances of library appropriations in his hands at year’s end did not revert to the municipality, but continued to belong to the library and could not be offset* against library appropriations in the upcoming budget.

Using these principles as a springboard, we had little difficulty, in 1973, in concluding that the amendment to section 259(1) of the Education Law provided the final installment of total fiscal independence to these municipal libraries. The Legislature had authorized payment of library appropriations to the library treasurers and hence, neither the municipal governing boards nor the municipal fiscal officers had any further official interest or responsibility for these monies once they came into the possession of library treasurers. This is the position which we are currently taking. Not only is it good common sense but we also consider it good law, in view of all the circumstances” Op. State Compt. 76-554, 1975 (unreported) *This differs from two earlier opinions – 27 Op. State Compt. 65, 1971 and Op. State Compt. 72-197, 1972 – which stated that a municipal governing body, “in fixing the amount to be appropriated ...for library purposes, may take into account the amount remaining to the credit of the library...”(I.e. the library fund balance from the prior year)

Joseph Savoca

Education Law Article 5 University of the State of New York §259 Library taxes

https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/EDN/259

Municipality appropriates money for the library and the library trustees determine how to spend the money.

All moneys received from taxes or other public sources for library purposes shall be kept as a separate library fund by the treasurer of the municipality or district making the appropriation and shall be expended only under direction of the library trustees on properly authenticated vouchers, except that money received from taxes and other public sources for the support of a public library or a free association library or a cooperative library system shall be paid over to the treasurer of such library or cooperative library system upon the written demand of its trustees.

Joseph Savoca

“It is…quite evident that a public library is a corporate entity and there is certainly nothing about the aforesaid statutes [i.e., sections 216, 226, 255 and 260 (1) of the Education Law and sections 3 and 14 of the General Corporation Law] which make such a corporate entity a part of the governmental agency which initiated it. The terms ‘establish’ and ‘maintain’ as used in the statutes are synonymous with the terms ‘initiate’ and ‘support.’ The latter term is used interchangeably as a matter of fact in the statutes… After the governmental agency has started or initiated the library, the mere fact that it continues to raise taxes for its support is incidental. The library would continue irrespective of whether any tax-support is continued by the agency. The support is, as a matter of fact, merely payment to the library corporation for library service and, as such, creates an implied contract. If the public library fails to give the service anticipated by the taxpayers, the support can be withdrawn at any time…[T]here is no validity to the theory that merely because the governmental agency contributes to the support of a body, that fact makes the body a part of the supporting agency.” (1 Educ. Dept. Rpts. 755, Formal Op. of Counsel No. 60, February 25, 1953).

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