The “Little Library on the Hill” will stay there a little longer, after successfully withstanding a challenge to its funding. At the April 30 budget meeting, the Town Council voted in the majority to restore the funding of $176,612 to the 2014 working budget.
Town Administrator John Anderson had originally proposed not funding the library, in view of rising taxes and the fact that the town also has the Derry Public Library on East Broadway. But a grassroots effort by library patrons and staff effected the change, and the 5-2 vote to keep Taylor.
Candace Andrews, chairman of the Taylor Board of Trustees, and Taylor Library Director Linda Merrill addressed the need at the budget meeting. The working budget includes a 3 percent raise for the five part-time and two full-time employees, Merrill said. The two full-time employees are included in the state retirement system, which has passed costs back to the towns, and the employees are facing a 3.8 increase in health benefits and a 1.2 percent increase in dental. “Otherwise,” Merrill said, “everything else is level-funded.”
Merrill said the library garnered 417 signatures on petitions to restore the funding, plus 50 “coloring sheets” from children. Councilor Mark Osborne asked Anderson to share some of his reasoning for proposing the cut. “We all feel libraries are important,” Anderson said, “and I have supported them in every community I’ve worked in.” But Taylor’s unique situation and size suggested to him that, “It should be funded privately.”
Anderson referred to recent history when a predecessor, the late Russ Marcoux, charged the trustees of both Taylor and Derry Public libraries to come up with an integrated service plan. That was in 2005, he said. Marcoux’s successor, Gary Stenhouse, renewed the charge in 2009. It never happened, Anderson said, “and much of the resistance came from Taylor.
“We are eight years out from that, and there’s no joint plan,” he said. Andrews responded, “We did not see any joint savings coming out of integrating services. The Town Council at that time told us, ‘You’ve done your due diligence.’” One idea floated was having a joint Board of Trustees, and that wouldn’t save anyone any money, Andrews pointed out, noting, “You don’t pay trustees.”
“I was involved in the 2009 meetings,” Councilor Neil Wetherbee said. “I did not see a cost benefit. If they merged their technology, there would be a cost to the town.” Both Osborne and Anderson could not justify spending $176,612 for a facility that serves only a portion of Derry’s 33,109 residents. Anderson pointed out that including the school libraries, Derry has 58,000 square feet of library space.
Many of the residents advocating for Taylor were children and their parents. Osborne asked Merrill what percentage of Taylor’s material is child-centered and how much is for adults. “It’s about two-thirds children, one-third adults,” Merrill responded. But she said Taylor also has an extensive genealogy section, which is used heavily by summer visitors to the area.
And it has 2,900 cardholders, she said. Osborne suggested that as there are school libraries and Derry Public Library has “an impressive children’s section,” Taylor’s services are repetitive.
Membership is up 200 over 2011, Andrews said. Anderson and the Council floated several ideas for saving Taylor, but saving it off the tax bill. Osborne asked if the town could fund half of it, and have the other half come out of the library’s capital fund balance.
Councilor Brad Benson said, “The intent of a capital account is for capital.” But, he said, there are “plenty” of capital items that could be funded out of the capital fund balance, leaving room in the budget for the $176,612.
“We can fund this library in its entirety without a burden on the taxpayer,” Benson said.
Chief Financial Officer Frank Childs said there is $212,000 in the capital account, which was originally begun in the hope of expanding the library. “The Town Council has the right to change the intent of the fund, to use it for operations,” he said.
Councilor Al Dimmock proposed a variation on Anderson’s “private library” scenario. “If we changed the bottom line to a lesser amount, is there some way they could raise the difference? I don’t want to cut them completely,” he said. He used the examples of the Rail Trail, which raised its own money that was matched by the town, and the Upper Village Hall.
Benson responded, “If we’re going to do that, then we should let Derry Public foot their own bill. It’s got to be a level playing field.” But Osborne said the two facilities are “not necessarily equal,” because of the number of people they serve. The vote to reinstate the $176,612 was 5-2. Osborne and Chairman Michael Fairbanks voted no; Benson, Wetherbee, Phyllis Katsakiores, Thomas Cardon and Dimmock voted yes.