Library budget vote set for Nov. 9

Town of Monroe and Monroe Free Library will share costs through this compromise agreement

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By Bob Quinn

— The Town of Monroe will hold a special election on Monday, Nov. 9, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., at the Senior Center on Mine Road to allow residents to vote on the Monroe Free Library’s proposed 2016 budget.

That budget would be approximately $30,000 more than the current spending plan if $1,234,325.

What’s most important, said Kathy Demos, president of the library’s Board of Trustees, is that voters are no longer disenfranchised.

The path hereAs they have for nearly 20 years, library officials presented the town clerk with a petition requesting that the budget be placed on the town’s general election budget.

Marilyn McIntosh, the library’s executive director, did that in late August, delivering a petition to Town Clerk Mary Ellen Beams that had 128 more signatures than the 643 required to get on the ballot.

The Monroe Town Board approved the request, but did so hours after the close of business on Sept. 28 - the deadline set by the Orange County Board of Election to submit all general election ballot information.

That move effectively disenfranchised voters.

The library then sought an Article 78 proceeding in state Supreme Court that would have forced the Board of Elections to include the library’s budget proposition on the ballot - regardless of the cost of reprinting the ballots for all registered voters in the town.

What happened, instead, was a compromise, brokered by state Supreme Court Justice Elaine Slobod and attorneys for the library, the county and the town.

Slobod wrote:

“At the special election, the following question shall be presented to voters in the Town of Monroe, excluding the Village of Kiryas Joel:

“Shall the annual contribution of Town of Monroe for the operation of Monroe Free Library be increased by $30,000 to the sum of $1,264,325?”

The reason voters in Kiryas Joel are excluded is because the village withdraw from the Monroe Free Library more than five years ago, with plans to create a library of its own.

Meanwhile, the library will reimburse the town for up to 50 percent of the costs incurred for printing the ballots and renting voting machines and related equipment up to a maximum of $1,000.

What’s nextSlobod also wrote that “this matter will be marked settled.”

But that may not be so, at least moving forward.

Lawyer Laura Wong-Pan took several tacts in representing the library’s position the Article 78 petition.

The first was that there were no statutes supporting the county’s claim that the cost of reprinting the ballot was “a hardship.” No figure was disclosed, but it would have been thousands of dollars.

“The financial impact to the Board of Elections is not a legitimate factor for the Court’s consideration,” Wong-Pan wrote, “and, even if it were, that impact is outweighed by the risk of disenfranchising 771 Town of Monroe residents who petitioned for a ballot referendum and by the risk of a budget shortfall for the Town’s only library.”

The attorney also sought a judgment on the whether the Town Board’s approval of the library's petition was even necessary.

Under state election law, Town Board approval is necessary.

But Wong-Pan argued state education is more applicable because libraries are governed by the Department of Education.

What that would mean is the library would submit its petition to the town clerk as it always.

But once the town clerk certifies the signatures, the petition would then be sent directly to the Board of Election to be included on the town’s general election ballot - circumventing the town board.

Slobod did not rule on the request.

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