Transition to public school library pushed

Massena Public Library Director Elaine Dunne talks to Louisville residents about plans to transition from a municipal public library to a school district public library. Bob Beckstead/Watertown Daily Times

LOUISVILLE — Massena Public Library Director Elaine Dunne made her case to Louisville residents Wednesday night about the need to transition from a municipal public library to a school district public library, a move that would spread the cost of operation from just town of Massena taxpayers to residents who live in towns that are part of the Massena Central School District’s boundaries.

But, while some of the approximately two dozen residents in attendance supported the move, others shared their concerns and said they couldn’t vote for the change.

Ms. Dunne said the library is currently funded by town of Massena taxpayers only. She said the library’s budget had been stagnant because of issues such as a loss of tax revenue, the tax cap and other competing financial priorities.

“Everything else is going up and we’re basically staying the same. We’re no longer able to do more with less. Our board decided that the library district is the answer,” she said.

Because of the stagnant budget, Ms. Dunne said the children’s librarian and library clerk positions have been reduced to part-time, the hours of operation have been reduced from three evenings a week to two, and any technology or building updates are dependent on grant funding.

The library’s 2020 budget is $683,750, with the town of Massena providing $607,430, the library’s fund balance covering $30,000, library charges covering $17,000, grants and donations covering $15,500, property rental bringing in $4,800, and the town of Louisville providing $9,000 a year.

Under the proposal to become a public school district library, they are asking for an initial budget of $700,000. If they needed to raise that in the future, they would need approval from voters.

“It will be established by a vote. We would operate within the tax cap based on the initial level of funding. We would be completely independent of the Massena Central School District and the town. We would be answerable directly to the community members,” Ms. Dunne said.

The funding would come from Massena, Louisville, Brasher and Norfolk residents who live within the Massena Central School District’s boundaries. Massena residents would foot the lion’s share of the library’s cost, 70 percent or $490,000, while Louisville residents would fund $154,400, or 22 percent of the cost.

Residents with property assessed at $100,000 would see a tax increase of $89 a year in Massena, $102 a year in Louisville, $111 a year in Brasher and $109 a year in Norfolk. Town of Massena taxpayers would also save $65 in town taxes. Town of Louisville residents would have the town’s annual $9,000 contribution taken off their taxes, according to Town Supervisor Larry Legault.

That, Ms. Dunne said, would put the library “on solid financial footing.” But if voters don’t approve the move, she said they would be unable to establish any long-range planning, would need to reduce staff and hours of operation, would increase charges for services such as photocopying and would charge fees for programming.

“We can’t plan for the future if we don’t know what funding is there,” she said.

Some of the residents at Wednesday’s meeting said they would have difficulty supporting the change.

“It frightens me to think we’re going to create another taxing entity in the area. People are leaving New York state because of the taxes,” Charles McGrath said.

He said that, while the library funding had remained stagnant, so had the level of funding for retirees, and they would end up with less money in their accounts.

“I recognize what you’re saying, but I don’t think the library is just for retirees. It’s for the community in general,” Ms. Dunne said.

“The library belongs to Massena. It belongs to the town of Massena, not the taxpayers. It does not belong to Louisville,” Mr. McGrath said.

“The library belongs to the community. We are more than just books, we are an essential part of our community,” Ms. Dunne said.

Responding to a suggestion about expanding the school’s libraries instead, Ms. Dunne said those were a different type of collections and it wasn’t possible for adults to use a school library.

She said it also wasn’t possible for Louisville to opt out of the district. She said the only type of districts the state was allowing were library districts, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was vetoing special districts.

“We don’t have any choice. It’s this or back to where we were,” she said.

“Did you survey Louisville whether they wanted to participate in the Massena library? Everybody in Louisville could vote no and we could still get run over,” one resident suggested.

Voters will be asked in May or June if they should transition to a school district public library. Impacted residents do not need to be registered to cast a vote,” Ms. Dunne said.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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