HVAC Miseries Point to BPL’s Fateful Decision Regarding Brooklyn Heights Library Branch

Where BPL Funds Come From, or How It Got So Bad
Based on an examination of BPL financial filings, more than 95% of the organization’s funding is contributed, as opposed to earned, income—with upwards of 90% being donated from city, state and federal coffers (this includes approximately $30+ million a year in estimated rent and utilities for the city-owned properties the Library occupies under the rent-free agreement with the City). In BPL’s audited financial statement for Fiscal Year 2013, on a declared budget of $137,000,000 of income, BPL received $95,000,000 in contributions from city, state and federal agencies, a $33,000,000 credit for city rent and utilities, and $4 million in donated income; and it earned another $3,000,000 in fines, royalties and other revenue.

In short, BPL generates very little in earned income—less than 5% of its budget annually—and certainly not enough to address a continuing capital shortfall. Over the period of 2003 to 2013, BPL received approximately $110,000,000 in capital funds from Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and the New York City Council, moneys that paid for improvements to select branches, but did not impact the system’s expanding capital deficits. And BPL lags NYC’s two other larger public library systems in capital support: an analysis by the Revson Foundation revealed that between 2003 and 2012 BPL received far less per capita for capital projects ($41) from city agencies than NYPL ($62 per capita) and Queens ($69).

Fundraising Difficulties that Defy Even a Seasoned Pro
When Linda Johnson was announced in July 2010 as BPL’s President & CEO, her fundraising skills were touted by then Board President Anthony Crowell. Results, however, have not lived up to expectations. According to BPL financial documents, since Ms. Johnson’s appointment exactly four years ago, BPL has raised approximately $4,000,000 annually from donations, including restricted funds. This amount is essentially unchanged from the fundraising success of her two predecessors.

By way of comparison, over the same time period, the New York Public Library, which operates on a budget more than twice as large as BPL, raised an average of $70 million annually from donations, including restricted funds.

David Woloch, BPL Executive Vice President for External Affairs since 2012, acknowledged the Library’s need for more effective fundraising. “The point is that we need to be pushing aggressively on all fronts and frankly better than we have historically to get more from the City Council, to get more from the administration, to get more from Albany, and to look for other opportunities.”

Ms. Johnson has also been frank about her organization’s inability to raise more capital funds.

“Unfortunately, private fundraising can only go so far,” she said at a New York State Assembly Committee on Libraries meeting in June 2013. “As any not-for-profit leader can tell you, raising private funds to pay for basic infrastructure needs, especially in City-owned buildings, is extraordinarily difficult. For the vast majority of library branches in Brooklyn, BPL will have to continue to rely on support from our elected officials.”

In a recent interview with BHB, Ms. Johnson identified how important fundraising is to BPL’s future. “I’ve built a whole development team from nothing and I’m proud of that. We’ve got some great people that are working with us now.”

They’re my salesmen,” continued Johnson. “They’re the people that are out there with a very select slice of our constituents.”


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  • Michael D. D. White

    Plans to sell the libraries with mayoral (i.e. Bloomberg) approval go back at least to the summer of 2007. Since those plans intertwine with an intentional defunding of the libraries and effort to drive these capital assets into the ground- because how else would anyone fathom explaining the selling and shrinking libraries to the public expecting the public to countenance such a proposition?- So it, of course, makes sense that the Bloomberg administration with its twelve years in office has manufactured this situation.

    But capital assets by their very nature last and are attended to long-term, with long-term plans, and long-term solutions. There should be no false urgencies that deny that we have time to address this problem no matter how long Bloomberg spent working to create it.

    In the bigger, long-term, scheme of things, it really isn’t that long ago that Guiliani was in office executing expansion plans for these same capital assets.

    We must also mull over Ms. Johnson’s noted abject failure as a fundraiser. As Bloomberg wanted the system drained of funds would she (a Lauder brother’s* girlfriend) really have been considered a loyal executioner of plans had she truly succeeded in raising funds?

    When it comes confronting those who arrogantly want to sell any of our public assets, be it LICH, other hospitals, parks, public housing, schools or whatever, we cannot let it be that all it takes for these few privileged individuals to win is the temporary denial of funds and plundering of resources.

    (* Lauder’s current net worth is $8.3 billion. And in the twelve years that Bloomberg was denying libraries of the small amount of funds they need to continue Bloomberg increased his own personal wealth by nearly $30 billion. Nearly the entirety of Bloomberg’s current wealth was acquired while in office as mayor.)

  • Michael D. D. White

    However much Bloomberg built up the current BPL capital deficit over his twelve years in office, the entirety of it (probably overstated as it is- per the evidence) at $308,000,000 it is just 01.140% of the amount by which Bloomberg increased his own net personal wealth (acquiring most of what he now has) during those same twelve years in office.

    Why is this important to mention here?: It’s important when we are selling libraries like Donnell for far less than it would coast to replace them and people are getting very rich in the process.

  • marshasrimler

    i say it is past time to replace Linda Johnson and a board that cannot accomplish results for the public. Lets have a town hall with the BPL trustees on a stage before the community.

  • Roberto

    Bravissimo al signor Randazzo! I recall the CBS report that showed Randazzo giving flowers to an opera singer. His reporting on our beseiged library deserves un sacco di fiori. Randazzo’s piece on the policy to allow the Brooklyn Heights library to rot and lose value is reminiscent of SUNY’s playbook for the dissolution of Long Island College Hospital. In the face of a crying need for LICH, SUNY cited the fact that it was losing money, even as SUNY turned away paying patients.

  • marshasrimler

    political implications are important. Brad Lander who described the destruction of our library as “creative” and is a Linda Johnson cheerleader is strongly behind Peter Sikora for assembly.. Is this progressive?

  • Michael D. D. White

    Talk about your “tin hats”: how about BPL spokesperson Josh Nachowitz espousing publicly, on the record, in the CAC meetings that insurmountable engineering impediments exist to fixing the air conditioners, posed by virtue of the fact that 2013 vintage computers and iPads are generating too much new additional heat to handle?

    No, we don’t “think” that the Bloomberg administration was obsessed by just “one little piece of property”- We actually know, as documented in the NYPL minutes (plus a story in The Nation) that in the summer of 2007 (right before sale of the Donnell Library) Bloomberg and his First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris (in charge of real estate, libraries, political strategy and dispensing “charitable” donations) was reviewing and blessing a number of library sales and shrinkages. And we know that in that same summer of 2007 the administration had a long list of Brooklyn libraries it was furnishing to the development community for similar propositions.