Bennington Select Board talks library funding

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Editor's note: This article was updated to correct the number of active patrons the McCullough Library has, which is 3,088 active borrowers.

BENNINGTON — Two libraries would receive more funding in the coming fiscal year under a budget that could go to voters at Town Meeting in March.

The Bennington Free Library's funding request of $470,000 is up $12,250, or 2.68 percent.

And the McCullough Library had sought $45,000 for the town's allocation of the library in North Bennington, up $27,000.

Select Board members were reluctant at their budget work session on Saturday to grant that full $45,000 request and include it as a line item in the general fund, which would have been a 150 percent increase. But members did approve an allocation of $22,000.

Jennie Rozycki, library director, said the library has borrowed from its endowment to cover operating expenses. "We're in a position where that can't happen going forward," she said. "It's at a point where in seven or 10 years down the line, we won't have that there."

Members agreed the library was an important part of the community.

But as Carson Thurber said, "It's a lot for taxpayers to absorb in one year."

Town Manager Stuart Hurd said the $45,000 would be "close to half a penny" on the town's municipal tax rate.

Chairman Tom Jacobs suggested the library gradually increase its funding request over five to 10 years. He suggested the $22,000, which members approved by a vote of 6-1, with Thurber voting against.

Select Board members are expected to formally approve the fiscal 2019 municipal budget, with changes, at its regularly scheduled meeting Monday night.

Bennington Free Library Director Lynne Fonteneau McCann told members Saturday that the 2 percent increase in what the library was requesting was mostly due to personnel costs including wages.

That library on Silver Street has about 1,481 visitors each week. They had 504 new borrowers sign up this year, 164 of them children. Over 12,700 hours of free-wifi was clocked. And some 104 library volunteers put in 1,944 hours of work.

The McCullough Library, Rozycki said, "has definitely increased fundraising efforts." A capital campaign is in planning stages, she said. "We're asking more from North Bennington and Shaftsbury to increase their funding as well."

Rozycki said the library has about 3,088 active borrowers, or members who have checked out an item in the last 10 years, and have signed up 200 new borrowers this year. It averages seven visitors every hour it's open. Staff answered 1,500 reference and computing questions this year, she said. And over 3,000 people attended various programs this year, including a whopping 900 to the solar eclipse viewing on Aug. 21, 2017.

"It seems like it would be fair for us to make the investment," said Vice-Chairman Donald Campbell. He spoke about the per-capita cost to taxpayers. The per-capita cost for the Bennington Free Library, for the budget allocation members accepted Saturday, is $28 per Bennington resident. The per-capita cost for the McCullough library, at the full $45,000 request, is $54 per person in Bennington, North Bennington, and Shaftsbury, he said.

But if Bennington allocates $45,000 and North Bennington, $25,000, "that would have a disproportionate affect on the North Bennington tax rate," he said.

Mary Rogers, treasurer for the village of North Bennington, who also serves as treasurer for the McCullough library, said the library has requested a $9,000 increase over last year. The library "will make presentation to North Bennington taxpayers to justify and ask for that request."

Ed Damon can be reached at edamon@benningtonbanner.com, at @edamon_banner on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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