Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Orange Library Trustees Ask for More Money

Special to The Recorder

ORANGE — Library trustees are asking for $316,000 for next fiscal year, so they can reopen the Wheeler Memorial Library on Saturdays and restore hours to the Moore-Leland branch. While the request increases library funding by about $100,000 in a “bare bones” budgeting process, Finance Committee member Eileen Perkins voiced strong support.
Citing new business building and expansion projects in the works, Perkins said, “there seems to be rumblings that perhaps the Town of Orange is on its way back … The library is extremely important in terms of how people look at the town as they make decisions about moving into town” to be closer to their work.

Library Trustee Chairwoman Jean Thompson told committee members the library suffered a $60,000 budget cut last year from
$263,000 approved by voters at the annual town meeting to the current level of $203,000.

According to Thompson, the 23 percent reduction was disproportionate to cuts made to other town departments. “We are extremely hopeful that will not happen again.”

Two years ago, residents voted to increase taxes, to fund the library at $280,000. According to Thompson, subsequent cuts to the library budget provoked anger and frustration among many
library patrons.

To pay for all library expenses since the cuts last fall, officials have been dipping into trust funds dedicated for library improvements and expansion. “Those funds were donated by Orange residents over the past 100 years. They were never intended to support basic operating expenses,” said Library Director Walt Owens in an interview after the meeting.

Owens estimates that up to $60,000 of trust funds will be
spent by the end of the fiscal year. He added that since 2005, he has witnessed the funds dwindle as “the amount of trust funds we have had to utilize to operate the library has practically doubled every year, going from a small amount of $5,000 to what we’re using now.” Thompson said that spending down the trust funds will ultimately destroy the integrity of the library program. “What we did last year, we cannot do again. We don’t have the funds to supplement the town budget.” Thompson added that for every dollar the town spends on the library, residents receive four times that amount in services with a total value of $1.1 million.

Owens said that use of the library has recently increased. According to circulation statistics, library patrons checked out 28 percent more library materials this past February than in the same month last year.
Over 40,000 visits were made by Orange residents to the library in 2011.

According to Owens, individuals and families hit hard by the economic downturn depend more heavily on free access to computers, books, periodicals and other materials. “It is in times like these that people need the library the most,” he said.

Owens said that to be certified by the state every year, the library must be open a required minimum number of hours, and spend at least 19 percent of library revenue on books and materials. In addition, the library cannot be cut by 10 percent or more than the average town department in any year.

The Orange library applied for and received a waiver from state certification requirements after the first round of budget cuts last June. But Owens questioned whether the waiver would have been granted after cuts to the library budget last fall.

Perkins warned that state “certification is a dangerous thing to lose.” She urged the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen to “make every effort to hold onto our library.”

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