Taylor Public Library Survives Defunding Attack Once Again

With a sense of deja vu for those watching, the Taylor Library survived another challenge to its existence at the April 17 Town Council budget meeting.

While the library was fully funded in Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau’s working budget, two Councilors thought the library’s services redundant, citing the larger Derry Public Library, and voted for defunding. The vote was 5-2 in favor of keeping the library funding, at least for now.

The arguments for and against keeping Taylor were almost identical to the ones put forth last budget season, when former Town Administrator John Anderson removed its funding in his working budget. At that time Anderson and some Councilors argued that Taylor was used mostly by children, and that children’s services were duplicated in the larger Derry Public Library downtown. They contended that it was a duplication of services, a relatively small proportion of residents used it, and the money could be better spent toward public safety and infrastructure.

Taylor advocates argued that its services were invaluable to children, who liked the smaller, intimate atmosphere and the many programs for their age group. They pointed to the generations of Derry youngsters who had learned to read and love books in the historic building. Community support included a petition and a “Children’s Crusade,” where young patrons made cards and begged the Council to keep “their” library.

At the April 17 budget meeting, the children were absent and Director Linda Merrill and Chairman of the Trustees Candace Andrews spoke to the need.

Budreau’s proposed budget for Taylor for 2015 is $187,189, an increase of $10,577 or 1 1/2 percent over last year’s approved $176,612. Part of the increase covers raises for the two full-time and five part-time employees, Merrill said. Increases range from 1.7 percent to .6 percent. The 27-year-old furnace needs to be replaced, but that money will be taken from capital reserve, Merrill said. The budget also reflects a $1,937 reduction in health insurance.

Andrews said Taylor is cost-effective for the community. The cost per capita for Derry residents is $5.37 per year, “less than you spend on coffee,” she told the Council. There are 20 libraries in the state that spend less, with the state average $35 per capita. Funding Taylor would be a $20 impact on a $250,000 home, she said.

While the library is known for its children’s services, it also has an adult book discussion group and is hosting Seacoast mystery author Brendan Dubois in May, with an eye on getting Dan Brown through the doors this fall.

Council Chair Mark Osborne made a motion to reduce the bottom line to zero, seconded by Councilor Albert Dimmock.

He asked each Councilor, “How many times have you been in Taylor Library this past year?” The response was tepid, with Phyllis Katsakiores saying she had been in phone contact with them, Joshua Bourdon going in once, and David Fischer saying, “I plan on going.”

But Fischer said Osborne’s survey wasn’t representative of the 34,000 residents of Derry.

Osborne said, “Ten minutes ago we approved a $1.2 million budget for a library that is less than two miles down the street.”

Osborne deconstructed the budget, saying that Taylor’s “books, building and supplies” come to $28,000, with the lion’s share of $160,000 being salaries. “When I went to the school deliberative session in February, a lot of the fingers were pointed at us, saying, ‘Why don’t you reduce taxes?’ Maybe they’re right,” he said.

Osborne also said he heard many times, “We want to reduce taxes, but we don’t want to touch safety, the schools, the libraries. There are more sacred cows in this town. It takes more than a calculator to reduces taxes. It takes spine.”

Osborne said reducing taxes involved more than saving the “hobbies and interests of a few people of the community.”

Fischer, who had advocated for across-the-board cuts in earlier meetings and this one (see related story page xx), said eliminating an entire department was not what he had in mind. “I am into striving to reduce the tax rate, but the cuts should be proportional,” he told his fellow members. “This looks like a cut that would wipe out an entire program. I believe all departments should share in reducing the budget.”

Katsakiores asked what plans the Council had for the building, which was donated to the town by the Shepard family and is in the Historic District.

“I’m not responsible for the building,” Osborne said. “I’m only responsible for this budget.”

Thomas Cardon, the Council representative for East Derry, said with the proposed level-funded town budget, no one would be laid off. “This affects the families of the people who work there, the community as a whole,” he said of defunding Taylor. “I don’t want to be remembered as part of the Council that cut a 130-year-old library. We are the stewards of this town, and this is an historic place.”

Cardon said with Budreau’s level-funded budget, there is no need to cut personnel. “I have received countless calls and e-mails in favor of keeping it open,” he said.

Osborne’s motion to defund the Taylor Library for 2015 failed. Those in favor of defunding were Osborne, Dimmock and Michael Fairbanks, who said he cast his vote with reluctance and after much thought. Those against defunding were Katsakiores, Bourdon, Cardon, and Fischer. The motion failed 3-4.

The Council went back to the discussion of what to do with the building, with Andrews noting that if the library closed, the building would revert back to the Shepard family. Dimmock made a motion to “flag” further discussion of the library until they had a firm idea of how to proceed with disposing of the building. The vote was 5-2 not to flag, with Fischer and Dimmock in favor of flagging and the others wanting to go on.

Osborne then went through the working budget line by line, and it passed 4-3, with Fairbanks, Dimmock and Osborne the dissenters.

The Derry Public Library budget was approved earlier in the evening, with Acting Director Susan Brown and Trustee Jack Robillard speaking for their facility. The working budget for DPL is $1,252,662, a 1.7 percent decrease from last year’s approved $1,273,869.

Though the budget overall is lower, it reflects a proposed pay increase for employees, Robillard said. It’s part of the Trustees’ overall goal to retain qualified people, and the result of a study of Derry’s pay in comparison with similar-sized towns and facilities. “We decided to adjust the salary schedule over three years, with small increases each year,” he told the Council. “This year is the third year of adjustments, with a 3.9 percent overall salary line increase. Some will receive less, some more. It will be a 3 percent annual raise from here on out.”

Robillard said there are no step or longevity increases at the library, and they only provide single coverage for health insurance, with no opt-out bonuses.

There is also no overtime, a lack noted by Osborne.

“We staff according to our needs,” Brown said. “You need to complete your work within the assigned hours, or other people will take care of it.”

Osborne made a motion to reduce the library’s salary line by the approximately $26,000 the raises would bring. Robillard pointed out that the library is by statute run differently than the town, and the Council could not reduce a line item, but could only cut the bottom line.

“We decide where the cuts will be,” he told Osborne.

Osborne made a motion to reduce the bottom line by $26,796, the amount of the raises.

Fischer objected, saying, “Remember, there is no overtime. That deserves recognition in terms of the overall budgeting. They are being efficient.”

Osborne’s motion to cut the budget failed 2-4, with him and Dimmock in favor and Katsakiores, Cardon, Bourdon and Fischer against. Michael Fairbanks abstained because his company does business with the library.

After a line-by-line analysis, the Council approved the working budget at $1,252,662. Six Councilors voted yes, with Fairbanks abstaining.