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New Canaan Library Set to Receive Zero Increase from Town

The library would be alone among town-supported agencies if the Town Council upholds the finance board's decision.

 

Despite calls for more town support and backing from some Board of Finance members, New Canaan Library is set to receive not a penny more next year than it’s getting this year in taxpayer dollars, $1,936,882.

The zero increase would put library alone among town-supported agencies, despite a plea from interim co-director Susan LaPerla Tuesday night for the town to recognize and appreciate the library through a bump even of 1.5 percent.

“The staff I think deserves recognition from the town of New Canaan,” LaPerla said during the finance board’s meeting at the New Canaan Nature Center (see video), citing among other reasons the library staff’s service and extra man hours during Hurricane Irene and its ugly aftermath.

More than 100 residents packed the room at the start of the meeting and most stayed throughout. 

The most emotionally charged item was thought to have been the widely discussed Board of Education operating budget request—a matter that has yielded calls for support from the schools and a strong response from New Canaan’s highest-elected official.

Yet despite some squabbling, the Town Council is set to receive for final approval a proposed budget for next year that’s very similar to what finance officials had planned to send along in the first place.

A handful of residents voiced strong opinions on planned reductions to funds that New Canaan Public Schools had been seeking for next year.

Some advocates for the district spoke in favor of tapping local expertise to preserve programs expected to land on the chopping block.

Michelle Orr, who identified herself as a public school parent, said, “Without our schools performing at the levels that they do, all of our property values would take a huge hit.”

Other attendees at the late meeting spoke out against more spending. That group included Michael Nowacki, who cited a lack of transparency from the district in revenues—a thought echoed in a different manner later on during the meeting by finance board member John Sheffield.

In the end, the finance board approved $77,939,705 for the Board of Ed’s operating budget for next year (with a small allocation essentially transferring to that line item from capital spending).

The town’s total spending following the Board of Finance’s handling would come to about $132 million—but it was discussion around two much smaller items that drew audible reaction from attendees.

Finance board member Judy Neville described the town’s planned non-increase for the library as “a little harsh.”

Referring to the library’s usefulness during and after Hurricane Sandy, finance board member Colleen Baldwin said, “Certainly they more than pulled their weight in becoming a true town support center.”

In addition to the library’s request for more funding, the finance board voted down a request to add $25,000 back to Human Services Agencies spending that would make full-time a contracted counselor at New Canaan High School who advises students there seeking help with issues related to their home lives, alcohol, drugs and other matters.

Though teachers, nonprofit leaders and administrators spoke out on behalf of the “Teen Talk” program, finance officials ultimately voted down the additional allocation, saying the Town Council could take it up with more specific information in-hand.

Jim Cole March 13, 2013 at 12:31 PM
The Library staff has proven to be important as a day-shelter for residents during emergencies when power is disrupted. The staff has been generous to the town and the Library deserves our support. If this support isn't available from tax revenues then we need to contribute as private citizens. I'll support a private initiative. Jim Cole
Glen K Dunbar March 13, 2013 at 12:52 PM
I am willing to "contribute" something BUT...they have to hire my wife. Then, they can take a small donation each week from her check. But, give her a job NOW please
Roy A. Abramowitz March 13, 2013 at 01:04 PM
Jim: that is a very well stated recommendation. Looking for individual support for infrastruture operational costs is very prevalent. With approximately 8,500 househoulds in New Canaan $10 a household would go a long way. $85,000 for privately funded activities. That is approximately 2.7 cents a day per household. One less dinner a year out could fund approximately 10 to 15 town operations with an additional $85,000 each. Also as an aside I believe my analysis of Bond principal amortization came off incorrectly in the time allocated. The point is that the town needs to amortize both interest and principal annually. I believe approximately $15 to $20+ million a year. My point is as rates increase and as the First Selectman indicated funds in the future will be harder to come by for budgetary purpose there could be the possibility that re-fiing an indenture at a higher interest rate would be necessary to not default on the town's yearly bond amortization requirements. Therefore you cannot keep bonding and moving the day of reckoning forward by increasing the amount of the town's debt service. That was my point. But count me in on your private funding initiative(s). Great thought.
Ade March 13, 2013 at 01:38 PM
"The library would be alone among town-supported agencies if the Town Council upholds the finance board's decision." The Town Council cannot increase the amount approved by the Board of Finance, they can only reduce it. Ultimately, the Board of Finance has no say over how each agency spends the money they are allotted. The library, just like the BOE or DPW, can rethink their budget decisions and change their priorities internally once they receive their lump sum. I think the $3 million gift the library recently received played a large part in the the decision of the BOF. I have to imagine there must be someone with a fundraising background in New Canaan that would be willing to volunteer their services to assist the library in beefing up their fundraising campaigns. If they had a donation box out in the storm aftermath, I'm sure many people would have dropped a few bucks in to say thanks to the library for their support (and heat, hot water, flushing toilets, charging stations, and wi-fi).
Cobie Graber March 13, 2013 at 02:16 PM
I came away from the meeting feeling that the public deserves time to digest information, ask questions and obtain answers. In truth, it feels like a moot point to make comments so late in the voting process. Every resident and/or town employee has a responsibility to point out potential opportunities for cost savings. That way, even if you cannot afford to donate money, goods or services, you contribute to keeping taxes low and maintaining a high quality of life. Our library is one of the features I love best about this town. What if the library sponsored a student art show or short films or even a photograph exhibit and charged a small admission fee? What if the library sold car magnets? What if they worked with the historical society to feature speakers and artifacts from our past? They could partner with SLOBS or scouts or other organizations to donate one-on-one help with electronics for a nominal donation. Innovative opportunities for more people to contribute smaller amounts would go a long way. Together, we can brainstorm ideas and find the money for projects that the public supports.
Tom Lewis March 13, 2013 at 02:25 PM
Does anyone remember the movie "Dave"? We need that guy who was a regular accountant, with no ax to grind, to examine the budget. Given the overall scale, hard to believe their isn't opportunity for cost save. For example, does New Canaan use the collective buying power of Town Hall, BOE, Library, Police, for office supplies, technology purchases, etc. or do the do it independently. Do we maximize the use of grant money? From my experience there is a ton out there but the problem is not everyone knows how to look for it or how to apply. What if we hired a person whose sole job was to be a knowledgable resource focused solely on this area to be used by both Town Hall and other non-profits as well. My bet is that he payback would be pretty quick. Just a thought.
Glen K Dunbar March 13, 2013 at 02:36 PM
What about the State of the Feds?? Library should ask them for funds. Ade, If a donation box was out there to help those hurt by the stormS aftermath which the NWS and weather man 100% control and give to us...YES, I would drop a few bucks in there. I know what it is like. Nobody knows more than I what it is like to need and nobody care or help you...Right..New Canaan ??? ummmm
Davey Goliath March 13, 2013 at 02:48 PM
Cobie, thought you came off really great last night. Thanks for standing up and speaking!
Cobie Graber March 13, 2013 at 02:50 PM
Great ideas! I would bet that the students who are in our schools every day could come up with some innovative cost savings measures, especially when they realize that they are empowered to save the arts, athletics and strings programs. Last night, we discussed that we are short-staffed on custodians and cutting a beloved Kids in Crisis mental health professional from the high school. Perhaps we need a community meeting to reevaluate our priorities so that our selectmen, town council, board of finance and board of education can work with us to maximize tax dollars.
Local Parent March 13, 2013 at 05:58 PM
We really need a more critical stance in looking at choices we make for both the present and future for all parties involved. If everything is important, it really means nothing is important. The library is a support function to the public schools in a lot of ways...why do we replicate or need to have everything in every place. Efficiency doesn't mean choosing not to spend MORE money - but actually looking through existing practices and making best use of all resources.
Glen K Dunbar March 13, 2013 at 06:00 PM
Mikey ole buddy. Did they bring up MY name?? What are they going to do to help me?
Great Good March 13, 2013 at 09:48 PM
Last's nights commentary from the janitor at Saxe was very powerful. It was just one very clear example of how thinly the school budget has been stretched over the last five years. That is the real story that hasn't been told- what the schools haven't asked for despite schools at their capacity. The one million in cost savings on the school's health insurance line item could likely not have been achieved without the collaboration between the Board of Finance and the Board of Education, as the town will assume some of the risk on higher claims through use of the town's capital reserves. This is what we need more of- collaboration towards cost savings. I was glad to hear last night from Mary Cody that there will be more collaboration by the Board of Finance Liaisons with the Board of Education. This is a step in the right direction.
Melissa March 14, 2013 at 12:06 AM
Just an idea, the Stonington Free Library in Stonington, CT charges $25 per year to out of town residents who want to use SFL. Why couldn't we do that here, in New Canaan? I can't count the number of times I've heard a Stamford or Norwalk resident at the counter in New Canaan, looking for a book they'd had held at New Canaan. The service at New Canaan Library is certainly comparable with the SFL and I hold a card there as well as at NCL.
Christine Yordan March 14, 2013 at 01:10 AM
The Library receives money from the State annually for each time a non resident uses the New Canaan Library. So we are always happy to have residents of Darien or Norwalk or Stamford borrow books or cds from our collection. Thank you for thinking of additional ways for the Library to raise funds, we need your help.

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