Comptroller: Selling off libraries is not a sustainable solution

Turning the page on the Brooklyn Heights library
CNG / Danielle Furfaro

The city’s plan to sell the Brooklyn Heights library so the borough’s book-lending system can pay to fix crumbling branches has limited shelf life, says the city’s top accountant.

The library wants to sell its shabby branch on Cadman Plaza West to fund $300 million in needed repairs — but the $52 million it will get for the property will only stretch so far, and the one-time cash injection is not a sustainable solution for funding an ongoing problem, the comptroller’s office said Wednesday.

“It is simply unsustainable for the city to rely solely on the dispossession of property to cover capital needs without fixing the systemic causes for the capital gap,” wrote Deputy Comptroller Alaina Gilligo in a Dec. 9 letter to Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen.

The city — which ultimately owns the land — should not go forward with the sale until the library system can outline how it plans to fix its bottom line in the long-term, which other libraries it plans to sell in the future, and how it thinks the resulting development will affect those neighborhoods, Gilligo said.

Gilligo also demanded the city address accusations that it could sell the land for way more than $40 million, and concerns that the replacement branch will be smaller than the current one.

The comptroller’s office did not respond to a request for an explanation of what a more sustainable way to fill the hole in the library’s budget might be by press time.

Glen told Politico New York in September that she backs the library sale plan “100 percent.”

The Council’s land-use committee voted to approve the sale on Thursday, after Councilman Steve Levin (D–Brooklyn Heights) agreed to proffer his all-important approval in exchange for some concessions — including a larger replacement library, though still not as large as the one that will be demolished.

The Brooklyn Public Library did not return request for comment.

Reach deputy editor Ruth Brown at rbrown@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–9309. Follow her at twitter.com/rbbrown.