Rockingham Library trustees ask for bigger budget

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BELLOWS FALLS — The Rockingham Free Public Library is running a deficit and will be asking Town Meeting voters for an increase in funding.

Celina Houlne, the head librarian, told the Rockingham Select Board Tuesday night that the library will ask for $21,000 to cover its expenses for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

"We will be over budget," she said, noting a 6.14 percent increase to $427,982 in the proposed library budget, with $379,250 to be raised from taxes.

The Rockingham Select Board took no action on the budget request, which will go before voters at Town Meeting.

John Bohannon of Saxtons River, chairman of the library's board of trustees, said Wednesday the budget was passed unanimously by the library board, with no discussion. It was proposed by the library's finance committee, he said.

"There are increases in many areas, and decreases in others," he said.

Bohannon and Houlne both said many of the added expenses could be traced back to increases in health insurance coverage.

"We are part of town government, and when they increase, we increase," Bohannon said, referring to the insurance policies.

Houlne said Wednesday that the final deficit figures won't be known until the town's auditors complete their work, but she said she expected it would be around $10,000. Houlne said the increase was needed to make up for recent level-funded budgets. The library is run by a board of trustees but it gets its funding from the town. Voters approve an appropriation on the floor of town meeting.

Houlne said the library is taking steps to reduce its expenses. She said the library has an agreement with Novus, a solar developer, and the library will be receiving its electricity from the Upper Bartonsville solar project that Novus is building. She said that will reduce the library's electric costs. She noted that the library's trustees sometimes have to dip into its savings accounts or endowment to pay for expenses.

In recent years, she said, the library board paid for a new membrane roof rather than ask voters to pay for it. She said the existing roof had just gone out of warranty and needed to be replaced. The library underwent a $3 million renovation approved by voters about six years ago. But the renovation was halted, due to the financial crisis its contractor Baybutt Construction faced, leaving the town with its own financial problems to get the job completed. The library and town ended up cutting the renovation project by more than $300,000, and also had to pay additional money to the contractors who weren't paid by Baybutt.

"It's definitely the citizen's library," said Bohannon. "We are trying hard to minimize expenses."

"The library continues to be very busy," Houlne told the Select Board. She said there is a demand for computer and technical help, as well as youth programs.

Houlne said that when the budget was level funded in the past, the library had hoped to make up the difference by fundraising. But she said that had been less than successful. She said the library's annual appeal "was just beginning," and that it would be bigger than previous appeals.

The library has three full-time employees, with several part-time employees.

Select Board member Peter Golec, who was acting as chairman, questioned Houlne why donations were down. "They go up and they go down," said Houlne, who said there didn't seem to be a reason behind the change in donations.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or 802 254-2311, ext. 154.

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