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Friday, April 20 News

Pequot Library won't shelve request for $350K in new town budget

Despite controversy that engulfed the Pequot Library's request for $350,000 in town funding last year, the private institution plans to ask for the same level of public financing in the new fiscal year.

Officials of the 125-year-old library in the Southport section of town recently confirmed they will again submit a request for $350,000 as town officials begin planning for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Although last year's request was eventually re-instated when the Representative Town Meeting overrode the cut imposed by the Board of Finance, the controversy over what role the Pequot Library plays in relation to Fairfield's public library system still remains.

Pequot Executive Director Martha Lord calls the Pequot Library the "third public library here in town."

But Robert Stone, one of the five Board of Finance members voting against the Pequot appropriation last year, doesn't view the Pequot Library the same way.

"We cut Pequot because it's not one of the two public libraries," Stone said. "I think the Pequot Library is an asset to the town, but we do have two beautiful public libraries and we spent over $1 million to renovate one of them."

Lord said she's asking for the same amount of funding from the town as last year because the library's operating costs are higher, especially for staff health insurance, and the $350,000 comprises only 30 percent of the Pequot Library's overall operating budget.

"We already raise 68 percent of the library's budget through private funding," Lord said. She added that some critics think the Pequot should raise more of the library's annual budget privately, but the library staff, board and volunteers work hard on fundraising every year -- and that includes funding the library's capital budget, which is not included in the Pequot's budget request from the town.

"We're raising a lot of money already," the library director said.

She began her job as executive director of the Pequot Library last year only weeks before the hearings on the town's 2013-14 budget, and was blindsided by the finance board's cut of the entire Pequot request.

"The town has been funding the library for over 100 years -- in earlier times in history the town funded 50 percent of the Pequot's budget," she said.

First Selectman Michael Tetreau agreed. "The Pequot Library at one point was funded for $380,000 from the town," he said. "It was reduced to $350,000."

But Tetreau also warned that balancing the town's budget for the coming fiscal year will be as challenging as last. He named a potential $1.5 million shortfall in the Board of Education budget and costly enhancements to the school district's security systems as two areas of fiscal concern, as well as the usual goal of keeping taxes low.

"The same factors that caused a problem last year are going to be in the budget this year. It's not just a one-year event," Tetreau said.

He has been meeting with town department heads, as well as with Lord and William Russell, chairman of the Pequot Board of Trustees, for discussion of 2014-15 spending plans. They made a good presentation, the first selectman said, but he can't say this early in the budget process how the Pequot Library request will be received.

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Last year, the community showed a lot of support for Pequot after its funding was cut, Tetreau said, but every line item in the new budget will get serious review.

Thomas Flynn, the Board of Finance chairman, said he was not surprised that the Pequot request will be the same amount as last year, despite the initial rejection.

Flynn said he's entering this year's budget process with an open mind, and doesn't' want to take a position on the Pequot proposal until the sees all the town department budget requests.

"I'll make no decision or make any request until I see the budget priorities for the town as a whole," he said. "I've spent a lot of time with the leadership of Pequot, with Lord and Russell, and I do understand what a valuable service Pequot provides to the town and what an integral part of the cultural fabric of the town it is."