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Selectmen Reduce Library Budget Request By $20K



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Update: This report was updated at 12 pm on February to add a clarification from the C.H.Booth Library Director Douglas Lord about an attribution regarding the library budget operating at a loss in the 2021-22 and 2022-23 fiscal years.

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Among the $67,000 in reductions to the proposed municipal budget made at the January 30 Board of Selectmen meeting was a cut of $20,000 to the C.H. Booth Library, which was initially set to receive a $40,000 increase in the first selectman’s initial proposed budget.

Selectman Maureen Crick Owen made the motion to halve that requested increase to $20,000, which was seconded by Selectman Ed Schierloh and approved unanimously.

Crick Owen said that a lot of what is happening in the library budget is unclear, and many questions asked by her and Schierloh at a January 25 selectmen’s budget session went unanswered or were not clarified enough for her. She expressed concern that the original budget presentation did not have “actuals” — showing how much of each budgeted line item was actually spent.

“There’s a lot of things that are not clear in spite them being asked those questions,” said Crick Owen. “Going forward for the future budget years, it would make things so much better to see the actuals, and have more clarity on how the fund balance is being used, as well as what’s left for them from the Capital Improvement Plan. From that standpoint, I’m uncomfortable.”

Rosenthal also expressed consternation that following his initial meeting with library representatives, he noted the library could be making more interest on its fund balance, and fund raising was well below previous years.

Looking at the library’s actual spending increases, Rosenthal said he saw an “adjusted ask of $67,000,” that just included the spending increases, so he decided to budget them for a $40,000 increase. Then selectmen received a sheet of items from the library detailing reductions that Rosenthal said were “more than the adjusted ask.”

Those items included $6,500 for staffing and materials for children’s programs; $12,500 for staffing and materials for skilled digital navigators; $12,500 for outreach programming for library service to remote locations; and $10,000 for digital content. The total of $41,500 was more than the $27,000 Rosenthal had initially reduced from the budget.

While Crick Owen felt the library was a great asset to the town, her concerns were in the presentation of the budget. She said in past years, the town’s fiscal bodies also struggled with the Edmond Town Hall budgets but “they’ve come a long way” and made “everyone’s lives simpler,” after adopting updated budgeting and presentation practices.

Concerns also arose about the presentation of the library’s fund balance.

Finance Director Bob Tait said a library financial position statement as of June 30, 2022, showed the fund balance consists of three components: a “designated for operations reserve” of $200,000, a “designated for infrastructure reserve” of $344,956, and an “undesignated” reserve of $100,650. Schierloh asked how much the fund balance had been spent down in recent years, but the answer to that was not clear.

Additionally, Crick Owen expressed concerns over the fact that library officials told the selectmen that the library had “operated at a $200,000 loss” in the 2021-22 budget and were at a $150,000 loss in the 2022-23 budget.

“If they know what their budget is, and are overspending, why not push some of that off until next year?” Crick Owen asked. Rosenthal said it was a matter of how the library was accounting for the spending of their fund balance.

“They’re overspending their budget, and I understand that is what they have a fund balance for,” said Rosenthal, “but the matter is how they’re accounting for it.”

Public Support

At the January 25 selectmen meeting, members of the library board as well as concerned residents appeared during public participation to “speak up for the library,” in the words of Library board member Betsy Litt.

“Doug and his staff have done a great job on a budget that has been constrained over the past few years,” said Litt. “We have a great library, please fund us.”

Lindey Conlan spoke on how the library supported the three areas of child development, cognitive, social, and emotional.

“I’m begging you to continue to stock the shelves of the library and allow the programs to continue,” said Conlan.

Peggy Jepsen, a member of the Garden Club of Newtown, noted that the library “was very generous” to the club, allowing them to use a room for free. She said they help the library with gardening on the library grounds and the library hands out membership fliers at their desk.

“I’m thrilled to support the library in whatever they want to do,” said Jepsen.

Resident Jess Podrazk, who came to speak with her daughter, Lana, said she worked for a nationally recognized program at the Boys and Girls Club in Ridgefield, and said the library “should be the same” with the “brightest most welcoming smiles.”

“Everyone there is top notch,” said Podrazk. “Children need role models and examples, and they have them at the library. It takes a special person to make programs come alive.”

Library Director Doug Lord gave a presentation on the library’s budget, noting that the library circulated 138,103 books in 2022. He said the library is not just books, but meeting rooms, streaming content, technology, films, and more. The library has 40 full-time and part-time staff, equaling 18.13 Full-Time Equivalent positions.

Lord said the library has fewer professional librarians than the state average but owns 13 percent more books than the state average. The library follows “best practices” and “asks the patrons what they want,” beating the state average for average amount of times books are checked out by 62 percent.

Additionally, the library has borrowed 8,608 books from other libraries, spending $4,000 moving the books to Newtown and returning them, but saving $134,000 by not purchasing those books. The library has circulated 40,627 digital items such as films, TV shows, eBooks and audiobooks, and lends out items such as car code readers and even a sump pump.

Lord said that usage of the library has been steadily increasing since the pandemic, with 21 percent saying they had visited the library at least once a month in 2019, 27 percent in 2020, and 32 percent in 2021. The amount of money saved by residents by borrowing from the library was $4.43 million, according to Lord.

“You won’t get a better bang for your buck than the library and this library in particular,” said Lord.

Edmond Town Hall

Also presenting at the January 25 BOS meeting were representatives from Edmond Town Hall, including Edmond Town Hall Board of Managers Chairman Jennifer Guman and Vice-Chairman Betsy Paynter.

The budget they presented was $209,688, a $12,803 or 6.5 percent increase from the 2022-23 adopted budget of $196,885. Guman said that much of that increase was due to maintenance of the building, which was built in the 1930s.

Guman said that the building has been having “a lot of network issues,” which has been hampering some of its operations and shows.

“It can put us in a situation where we put on a show and the WiFi goes down, and we can’t manage concessions or the bar,” said Guman. “It impacts business.”

This has been helped by ETH receiving American Rescue Plan funds for internet upgrades. The ETH also received ARP funds for new repaired doors and hardware. The group has also received grants for WiFi upgrades, a T-Mobile grant allowing them to enhance the gymnasium with a kitchenette, and an operational support grant from the Connecticut Office of the Arts.

Guman said that recent trends with movies has been a boon to their theater, as while movies tend to be more expensive to bring in, the theater can get them much earlier as movies follow a faster track from first run theaters to streaming services. ETH, as a second-run theater, can only get movies after they move out of first run.

The managers are projecting a 36 percent increase in revenues in 2023-24, along with significant increases in theater rentals, and rentals of the Alexandria Room and gym.

“We’re booked solid until late spring,” said Guman.

Paynter said that they are expecting to draw down their $416,000 fund balance, mostly on building maintenance, and expectations show the fund balance being $300,000 at the end of 2023-24.

She said it may be drawn down further, as a number of projects such as new computers to support security cameras, installation of replacement windows in the theater dressing room, repair and replacement of carpeting in the borough offices, and repair of ceilings, walls and plaster molding in a theater balcony, and other planned projects do not have final costs yet.

The selectmen approved the ETH budget unanimously with no changes from the First Selectman’s proposed budget.

Fund Transfer

The last item reviewed at the January 25 selectmen meeting was the Reserve for Capital & Non-Recurring fund line items, with $600,680 designated to be transferred into that fund.

Items to be spent from that fund include $60,000 for a new voicemail system for the communications department to replace a lease; $65,500 for a new police vehicle; and $50,000 for personal protective equipment, $14,800 for a truck mounted traffic flow board, $9,000 for a light tower upgrade, and $11,380 for an eDraulic ram for the fire companies.

For the highway department, the capital fund includes $85,000 for a new all season body replacement for a dump truck; $60,000 for a frame rail replacement for another dump truck; $40,000 for a car to replace the first selectman’s car, with the first selectman’s current vehicle going to the fire marshal’s office; and $15,000 to replace an 11-foot Wausau snow plow.

For public building maintenance, $30,000 for continued window abatement and refurbishment at the Municipal Center; $30,000 for sidewalk repair and replacement at the Municipal Center; $80,000 for lead paint removal in the Municipal Center cupola, and $55,000 for low voltage lighting replacements at the Municipal Center.

Lastly, there is $25,000 for a line painter for the Parks & Recreation Department.

Associate Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

In a screenshot from the stream of the January 25 Board of Selectmen meeting, Jessica (left) and Lana Podrazk came to speak in support of the library.
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