Last year, the Pequot Library faced the loss of the town's entire $350,000 contribution to its annual budget. This year, the first selectman has proposed trimming $25,000 from that request, but library officials contend that reduction would be no less devastating.
"There are no good options," William P. Russell, Jr., president of the Pequot's board of trustees, told a joint Board of Finance/Board of Selectmen budget hearing Tuesday night. "You're cutting into the bone of the organization." Russell said that while the 7 percent reduction in support for the Pequot Library is not "material to the town budget. It is material to us."
First Selectman Michael Tetreau said he understands the value the privately managed library brings to the town, adding that calling it a "library" is a misnomer. It is, he said, more a community and cultural center.
But, Tetreau added, he had to review all budget requests for 2014-15 and strike a balance to keep the projected tax increase to about 2.6 percent. Tetreau also noted that last year when Pequot ultimately received its full funding request when the Representative Town Meeting restored the $350,000, other town departments, including the town's public libraries, endured cuts to their funding requests.
No vote was taken Tuesday on the budget allocation for the Pequot Library.
Tetreau has proposed an overall budget of $286,715,615 for the new fiscal year, with an increase of 2.96 percent over the current spending package of $278,465,591. If approved, it would require a 2.67 percent tax boost.
"I fully support the value in Pequot," Tetreau said. "I just felt the cut could be handled this year."
Pequot Executive Director Martha Lord listed several different ways the $25,000 cut could be achieved, including increasing employee contributions to health insurance premiums, cutting free musical programs, eliminating benefits for part-time employees and reducing the library's service hours.
"We could cut our books and materials by $25,000," Lord said, or reduce a development post to part-time, but that, she said, would "produce a downward spiral" since that position helps raise private funding for the library.
The library raises the $850,000 balance of its budget through private donations, memberships and fundraising events, and also has a $2.5 million endowment from which it can draw funds to close gaps, Russell said.
The endowment grew over the last year because of its investments in the stock market, he said, but also because the library is drawing down the 4 or 5 percent of the endowment that is the recommended limit. During the financial crisis a few years ago, Russell said, the library was drawing down about 7 percent to fund the budget.
Finance board member Kenneth Brachfeld noted that last year, when the board voted to cut the entire $350,000 in Pequot funding, one library board member suggested that such a drastic cut was unfair, and suggested instead the town should consider reducing the funding a little bit each year.
After the library mobilized public support for restoring the money, they RTM ultimately voted to overturn the finance board's cut.