Library funding prompts discussion

MANCHESTER - A new library under construction - to be known as the Manchester Community Library when it's formally opened later this year - has stirred up speculation and controversy in the past few weeks, and not just on the letters to the editor page.

On March 1, the town will vote to appropriate $198,000 to the library, an increase of $44,800 from last year, to cover 42.5 percent of their operating budget. Some residents believe the money is going to a worthwhile cause while other believe the money would be better spent elsewhere.

Dick Kaaz, a library user and Manchester resident, said he doesn't mind the library asking for the additional funding. He was at the library with his grandchildren Qwynn and Calder, both students at Manchester Elementary Middle School. Both kids said they use the library to check out books - Calder said he especially likes books about reptiles.

Even though they are not voting age and can't be apart of the town's decision, both said they are very excited for the new library to be opened. "It's near our school!" Calder said, excitedly. "We could walk there!"

Betsy Bleakie, library executive director said the importance of the new library is that it will be able to serve as a community center and space for everyone. With the additional money the library is asking, the contribution from the median Manchester household would come in to about $52 of their taxes. This is less than the $65 a non-resident household pays to use the library and comes out to be less than 15 cents a day, she added. Linda McKeever, president of the library board said the new library will not be "your grandmother's library." It will be a place where people can go for technology help, adult programming and other services. Books are just a fraction of what the library will be able to offer, she said.

In building the library, McKeever said the board really looked at building a library for the future, including making the building as efficient as possible while keeping spaces open for the changes that may come.

"You don't build a library every 50 years," she said. "You build one every 150 to 200 years."

On the other hand, Steve Nichols, a member of the selectboard and a former member of the library board of trustees said that when he was on the board, he had concerns that the library's budget did not contain enough fundraising and grant money. He said the amount of money being asked by all the non profits is too much.

"They [non-profits like the library] need to be more concerned with the [cost of] infrastructure and the tax payers pockets," he said. "I'm not out to upset anybody, but you have to look at the town as a whole picture, you can't just say 'meme', it's 'we, we, we."

Nichols said he was airing his personal feelings on the subject, and was not speaking on behalf of the Select Board.

Manchester resident Barbara Comer said she too is not against the library, but is against the amount of money the library is asking from the town.

She said the town is under a lot of pressure to keep their budget low and that because town departments are asked to scale back, the library should not receive this extra funding.

"They should implement a different fee system, or approach other towns for funding," she said.

Comer made the argument that there is a diminishing tax base in Vermont and there are many stressors on that base, specifically educational funding in the state.

She also stressed the importance of utilizing the Park House at the rec park.

"We spent $1.5 or $1.6 million [dollars on a] recreational facility, which the town is still paying back," she said. "I wonder how much that is utilized." When asked about article five on the town warning [this article would require all social services asking for more than $2,500 to be voted by Australian ballot, not off the floor], she said the change to voting procedure would be a good thing. Comer said this would allow more people to have their opinion about large appropriations, like the $198,000 the library is requesting, heard.

John O'Keefe said it was the combination of voted appropriations going up and participation in town meeting going down that prompted this article, not the size of the appropriation for the library.

"We've seen voted appropriations grow well beyond the general growth of budgets in general...[article five] is not about one specific voted appropriation, but a different number of voted appropriations," he said.


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