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Board vows to support library.

Byline: Michael Kane

WEST BOYLSTON - Dozens of supporters of the Beaman Memorial Library received a pledge of support from selectmen last week, but it is a pledge of support that requires money to be found elsewhere and, quite possibly, for the School Committee to help too.

Vice Chairwoman of the Board of Library Trustees Anne Marchant made three requests of selectmen, following a PowerPoint presentation that showcased the library's contributions to West Boylston: First, to re-examine the budget that, two weeks ago, had under $100,000 available for the library (that number has since been reduced again); second, to promise that any unexpected money that comes to the town up to the $283,000 in the trustees proposed budget is allocated to the library; third, trustees wanted a public reply.

A public reply and a re-examination of the budget were a non-issue, selectmen said, particularly because there was never any intention to close the library, selectmen explained.

A furor started two weeks ago after Town Administrator Leon Gaumond Jr. presented his first draft budget. At the time, Gaumond said he was following directives from the selectmen two weeks prior that instructed him to try and find a way of funding budgets without gutting town hall offices and without laying off firefighters and police patrolmen.

If those instructions were to be followed, Gaumond said, there would

be only $70,000 left for the library, which had requested around $283,000, a 10 percent cut from last year.

The following week, the amount left for the library was reduced to below $20,000 after another snowstorm and a change in figures from the state.

Gaumond said at the time he was not suggesting closing the library, and that he was only illustrating the town's dire financial situation with the directives he had received.

It was a point reiterated by Selectmen Chairman Allen Phillips last week.

"There was no vote to cut anything out," Phillips said. "We did not vote on any proposal. We have a say (in the budget) and we do not agree with closing the library. But we do agree to a cut and a reduction of hours, just like every other department. We must fund public safety and the schools."

At issue for the library, and libraries across the state, is certification. Without certification, West Boylston residents cannot borrow from other libraries, the town would lose state assistance for the library and the right to apply for library grants. Last year, the library received $12,000 in assistance, which was used for maintenance, Library Director Louise Howland said. In addition, the library also received two grants totaling more than $12,000.

To be certified, a library has to meet certain criteria, Marchant said. Among the criteria is opening 25 hours (Beaman is now open 30), spending 19 percent of the library's budget on materials and receiving municipal support that matches that given to other departments. That means, when budgets are cut, cuts to the library must be proportional.

"I am a product of public schools and I know that there is a difference in $282,000-plus and zero," Marchant said. "Everybody in this room knows that is not proportionate."

Libraries that do not meet the criteria are allowed to apply for waivers. Such has been the case in West Boylston four of the last five years, Marchant said.

The $283,000 request is a 10 percent cut from the current year, roughly the same amount as other departments have been asked to cut, so West Boylston could request another waiver.

However, had things been better financially, a level-funded budget would still be about $14,000 below the state required spending, Howland said.

Marchant said the state has recognized that towns are having fiscal difficulties and has agreed that West Boylston can open for 20 hours and reduce spending on materials to about 15 percent.

That would cost around $250,000 and require the lay-off of three employees, Howland said. In that scenario, what would then be needed is a commitment for the $250,000.

But, the promise of allocating additional money or money found in other areas to the library, like reducing the trash budget, would require the agreement of the School Committee too, Selectman Kevin McCormick said.

"We're only one half (of the budget)," McCormick said, noting the school department receives around 67 percent of the town's total budget. "You should get a commitment from them too ... They also have needs and they're going to want part of any money that becomes available."

Selectman John DiPietro Sr. said the school budget was "full of frills," noting the closing of the library would be embarrassment to the town.

McCormick and DiPietro also noted they had some ideas of how money could be found within Gaumond's draft, but they declined to give examples until the matter was discussed as a board. McCormick noted, however, that the largest item on the town side is the town's trash removal program (see story, page 1).

Following the meeting, Trustee Chairman Whitney Barnard did not rule out organizing a similar request of the School Committee, but said he already had a meeting scheduled with School Committee Chairman Peter Desy regarding the library budget.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 12, 2009
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