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Library Roof Repairs Will Await Decision From Newly Elected Council



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With new information providing some breathing room to further assess the situation and noting the collapse of the C.H. Booth Library roof is not imminent, the Legislative Council decided to take no action on authorizing spending on roof repairs at its last meeting before a newly elected group of representatives takes office.

Members of the Library Board of Trustees attended the council meeting on November 17, when they asked council members to not approve a recommendation by the Board of Finance that added the library roof, down spouts, shutters, and gutters repairs to the current year’s Capital Improvement Plan for $420,000, to be paid out of the library’s own fund balance.

Michelle Brown, incoming library board president, asked that the roof repairs instead be paid for by the town through bonding. This set off over an hour’s worth of questioning and debate as council members grappled with how quickly they need to move to repair the roof, how much danger the roof is in, how best to pay for it, and just what the library’s fund balance is meant to be used for.

“This is not as cut and dried as it appeared to me when we started,” said Council Chairman Paul Lundquist.

“I came in here ready to approve this,” said councilman Ryan Knapp. “I thought we were doing them a favor.”

David Schill, the library board building and grounds chair, told the Board of Finance at its November 8 meeting that the roof was in “imminent danger of failure” and a contractor could not investigate a leak in the northeast corner of the building due to the 80-year lifespan of the roof and current deterioration. The roof currently has a 3,000-square-foot area that is 80-year-old slate tile and a 20,000-square-foot area that is 30-year-old asphalt tile on an addition built in 1998.

The first contractor determined there was no way to access the area that is leaking because even just touching some of the old slate reduces it to powder.

At the council meeting, however, library board member Alex Vilamil said that in further talks with three different roofing contractors, there was “some time.” While the roof “definitely has some leaks incurring,” the town should “do its due diligence” and “go a little bit slow.”

“It should be OK for the next two months,” said Vilamil. “This doesn’t need to be decided tonight.”

First Selectman Dan Rosenthal questioned whether that time frame was feasible considering contractors would need to figure out exactly what work needs to be done and get materials. He also expressed concern that “everyone was reacting to Dave Schill saying the roof would not last the winter.”

“I think that was a bit of a misunderstanding,” Vilamil said. “That was the information we had at that meeting. We’ve since heard from other vendors.”

Vilamil said that most of the contractors they have talked with said they have the necessary materials for the job and are willing to work during the winter.

“There is still some urgency but not as much as we thought we had,” said Vilamil.

Councilman Cathy Reiss asked if any of the vendors had “given the option to protect the roof,” by stopping the leaking and possibly covering it to protect it from the elements.

Vilamil answered that “we’re not to that stage yet” in regards to negotiating with contractors. He said that the council taking up the matter had been a “surprise” to the library board.

“We didn’t know you would act this quickly,” Vilamil said.

Vilamil said that the roof’s “weak points are the edges and peaks,” and that raking off accumulation would “help avoid a lot of damage.”

“We need to assess what needs to be protected,” said Vilamil.

Library Director Doug Lord said that the repairs to the library roof have been part of the CIP “for a long time,” since 2016, and it “was always, yup, we’ll get to it” on the part of the town.

Rosenthal expressed concerns that if the BOF’s action was not approved and the roof repair not added to this year’s CIP, the town would not be able to bond for the roof until “further out,” possibly next year or later.

Knapp also expressed concerns that if the library did not use its own funding, the town would have to put the repairs to referendum, which would also be time consuming.

Lord said that was not the case, as there were funds for the library in the 2017-18, and in the 2018-19 CIP there was $250,000 for library roof repairs that were allocated but not yet expended. Additionally, there is $550,000 planned for the 2022-23 year.

Rosenthal questioned whether the money had actually been appropriated, since if it was not appropriated, “it’s gone” and “not sitting in a pot somewhere.”

Outgoing library board president Amy Dent insisted it had been appropriated.

Library treasurer Gregory Branecky said that the library’s yearly budget is $1.6 million, of which $1.4 million comes from the town. Each year the library has to fundraise for the other $200,000 of its annual operating budget.

That budget is used for maintenance, salaries, programming, and a number of other things.

He said that using $420,000 from the library’s fund balance is using 60 percent of it, and that would “hurt fundraising,” which “is down since COVID,” decreasing by about five percent per year over the last few years. The library’s fund balance currently sits at approximately $800,000.

According to Dent, the library’s fund balance includes a combination of unspent money from its municipal allocation for year-to-year operations, as well as money from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) from the federal government. There are also donations, grants, and fundraising, which are currently “comingled” so it is not possible to determine how much is left from any particular funding source.

Dent said the library fund balance has “ballooned a bit” thanks to the PPP grant and a lessened ability to plan and spend money due to large amounts of turnover on the library board. She said that the fund balance is used for programming and capital improvements that are not “CIP eligible,” such as shelving and furniture.

Dent said that she has been president since 2017, and in that time there has been a turnover of 14 trustees, 12 in the past two years alone. Five of the trustees were involved in budgeting and grounds management.

Additionally, the library has lost three directors since 2016. This has made planning how to spend money in the fund balance difficult.

Council member Chris Eide said that he was concerned about “the message to potential donors” if the library’s fund balance is used. Lundquist added that using $420,000 of the library’s fund balance for the roof replacement would leave $320,000 left.

“That seems respectable,” Lundquist said. “What would be the downside?”

Lord replied that the downside is the library would not be able to use the money for projects that are too small to warrant the attention of town bodies such as the Board of Finance and Legislative Council.

“We are constantly juggling things,” said Lord, noting the library is constantly trying to balance its needs to replace decaying items and old equipment, as well as add to its book collection.

Lord said that with the building originally built in 1932 and the addition built in 1998, “it’s a spring-winter marriage that has not always worked out.”

Council member Jordana Bloom questioned whether the repairs should be town responsibility as it is town-owned property, or if it is the library board’s responsibility.

“People have fundraised that money to enhance and improve the library,” said Bloom. “To take that money when the town should do the roof ... The donors did not donate to fix the roof.”

Knapp said that taxpayers pay 85 percent of the library’s yearly budget and contribute significantly for building maintenance through bonding in the CIP, so the library should use its reserves.

Lundquist said there was a lot of information that was still unknown, and he didn’t believe the council should act until more information presents to help officials make the right decision.

As a result, it will become a matter for the next council.

Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

The C.H. Booth Library roof has been leaking in multiple places. Town boards have been wrestling with how quickly they need to move to authorize repairs. —Bee Photo, Taylor
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