By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — Niagara Falls Public Library officials are worried over their page in the mayor's proposed budget.
The system takes a $100,000 reduction in its budget from last year in the "disaster budget" that Mayor Paul Dyster presented last week.
The proposed budget contains cuts for almost every department, but the reduction in the library's funds is particularly painful because of a $94,000 annual increase in the library systems payroll that started last year, Michelle Petrazzoulo, director of the city's library system said.
"We're kind of double hit," she said.
Library officials have circulated a petition which calls on the city council to restore some or all of the funding that has been reduced in this year's budget when they make amendments. Over 400 people signed the petition on the first day that it was passed. That number was up over 500 late Thursday afternoon.
Petrazzoulo said that if the budget reduction sticks the library may have to reduce staff, services and hours.
"If it's not restored, we'll have to make some cuts," she said.
Library officials understand that all city departments and residents are going to have to make sacrifices under this budget, but Petrazzoulo said she hopes the fact that the library cut its own budget by $20,000 last year, at the city's request, will be factored in as the council decides whether to restore the funding when making their amendments.
"We weren't required to do that," Petrazzoulo said. "We did that as a gesture of good will."
The purpose of the petition is to let the public know how the reduction in the budget might affect them, Petrazzoulo said, not to bad mouth the mayor or members of the council, all of whom, she said, have been very good to the library over the years.
Petrazzoulo hopes that residents will voice their concerns at the public hearing on the budget which will take place during the 7 p.m. session of Tuesday's city council meeting.
"I just want to make sure that the public is aware of the potential cuts and that they have a chance to speak out on behalf of the library," Petrazzoulo said.
City Council Chairman Sam Fruscione said he is glad library officials and employees are circulating the petition.
"That's the reason I scheduled the public hearing," he said. "We need everybody's input."
Fruscione, a teacher with the city's public schools, said he sees the positive impact that the library has in the community in his students.
"My children rely on the library," Fruscione said.
The chairman believes that the council will be able restore funding where cuts have been made by eliminating parts of the budget that he and other council members view as unnecessary, though he was unable to specify what he would cut instead at this point, he said.
"I believe that we are going to be able to restore most of the positions and reduce the tax burden the mayor proposed for the homeowners and business owners of the city of Niagara Falls," he said.
Fruscione said that Dyster's efforts to make the council's job easier by delaying his presentation of the budget by a month, something the mayor offered as a reason throughout the delay, was not effective.
"He claims he made things easier," Fruscione said. "He actually made our job more difficult."
Dyster said that he has always been and still is a big supporter of the library system, but that in this budget he had to make many difficult decisions.
"The library is a high priority," Dyster said. "But there is pain everywhere in the proposed budget as it stands now."
Dyster said that he had to cut down to a "bare bones" budget.
"It's difficult to find a cut in any department that doesn't cause some tangible negative impact," he said.
Dyster said that although the city must move forward with the budget process he continues to work to find funds to ease the burdens caused by the lack of casino revenue until the arbitration process between New York State and the Seneca Nation of Indians is settled.
"We're still working on efforts to obtain some bridge funding here," he said.