HILLSBOROUGH: Township will now oversee use of library fines 

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By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor
Forget to return your book to the library on time?
That’ll be a fine of 20 cents per day, please.
And a movie? That’s a dollar a day.
Not all went for naught, however. Those dimes and dollars made their way into the treasury of the Hillsborough Public Library Advisory Board, which would accumulate them and returned money to the local library in the form of payment for some improvement, like furniture, carpeting or other programs.
Last year, the advisory group gained just over $23,000 a year from fines.
After last week’s Township Committee meeting, the money will take a different route back to the library. Instead of the non-profit citizens’ group receiving the money from fines, it will now go to the township, which will hold it in a separate account. The citizens’ advisory board will have to turn over all the fines money it currently has in its treasury.
The Township Committee, perhaps with a recommendation from an advisory board that could be set up, will review how the money will be spent for the local library.
The Public Library Advisory Board will continue to exist, and will have the ability to hold fundraisers and seek tax-deductible donations. But its treasury won’t be supplemented by the library materials fines money.
The governing body decided last week that the money from fines are public dollars, and should be accountable to a responsible entity — like the elected members of the Township Committee — and not the private citizens who organize and lead the advisory board.
Mayor Frank DelCore said the action was necessary to assure the public that its money was handled properly.
Committeeman Doug Tomson, the body’s liaison to the advisory board, said that “no one is ever suggesting anything unethical, illegal or anything of the sort” has happened with the money under the advisory board’s control.
Theoretically, if the public didn’t like the advisory board’s decision to use the money, there was nothing it could do about it, said Mr. Tomson. Under the township government umbrella, people dissatisfied with some action could vote against the Township Committee members, who would be the ultimate people in charge.
“We have the responsibility to protect the public dollars,” said Mr. Tomson.
With its action, the Township Committee agreed with a request from the Somerset County Library Commission, the group that operates the 10 library branches in the county system. Hillsborough, which is one of the municipalities with a county library branch in its borders, was the only county municipality that didn’t have elected officials appointing the leaders of an advisory board, Mr. Tomson said Wednesday.
Members of the Library Advisory Board questioned the Township Committee at length Feb. 9 about the resolution seizing the funds.
For one thing, they wondered about timing. Why was it necessary to act that night, they asked, especially since the item had not been placed on the body’s agenda, as posted on the Internet, until a few hours before the meeting?
Mr. Tomson said he emailed some members of the advisory board earlier that day to tell them the resolution would likely be acted upon that evening. Even so, Township Committee members said the issue was not new and had been pending since the county library commission requested the action back in 2013.
Advisory board members also said they feared the use of the money would become politicized if it came under the Township Committee, even if by way of a recommendation of an advisory board appointed by the body.
Mr. Tomson said the township’s record was that it appointed members of all political parties to township boards.
Susan Gulliford, an advisory board member, asked the Township Committee why it was trying to change a system that had worked for 50 years. The mayor said the body was only trying to create some oversight of the funds.
She asked if the local government would assume the bills — like the telephone, for one — that the advisory board has been paying for many years under a contract signed by the township, library and advisory board, said Judith Haas, the immediate past president of the board.
The PLAB was organized into a 501c3 organization in 1968, according to Ms. Haas, and has been receiving local fine money since its organization. The arrangement was continued even after Hillsborough joined the county system in 1975, she said.
Mr. Tomson said Wednesday the county library commission had told him that $27,477 in fines had gone to the library board in 2015.
According to the library board, the amount of money from fines coming to the library board has decreased markedly in recent years. From 2006 to 2012, the annual figure was $48,000 to nearly $57,000. Since 2010, the library’s e-mail reminders to patrons and the ability to renew online has reduced the amount of late fines.
Over the years, she said the board has made hundreds of thousands dollars worth of program contributions (like musical programs, for instance, and the stage on which they perform) and facility improvements, like lighting, carpeting and finishing the staff area.
Over the last seven years the advisory board has spent more than $83,000 than it received in fines, she said. 

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