MASSENA — Voters will be asked in May or June 2020 if the Massena Public Library should transition from a municipal public library to a school district public library.

If the answer is yes, library Director Elaine Dunne says the cost of operation will be paid by residents of the towns of Massena, Brasher, Louisville and Norfolk rather than just Massena taxpayers.

If the answer is no, she said patrons will see some changes in the library’s operation.

Ms. Dunne held a “Community Conversation” on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the reasoning for the proposed change — to create stable and sustainable funding at the library in the future.

The library is currently funded by the town of Massena, and she said because of issues such as the tax cap, a loss of tax dollars and other competing financial priorities, the library’s budget has remained stagnant for the past 10 years.

“Our 2019 funding is basically the same as 2009,” she said.

At the same time, however, the costs include salaries, resources, technology upgrades, building maintenance and utility costs, none of which get any cheaper. As a result, positions that were full-time have been reduced to part-time. Officials have also reduced the library’s hours from three evenings a week to two evenings, and their resources that are available for checkout have been reduced by half over the past year. In addition, any technology and building updates are completely dependent on grant funding, which often requires matching funds.

Ms. Dunne said the library’s budget for 2020 is $683,750. The town’s contribution is $607,430 and the remainder is covered by the library’s fund balance ($30,000), library charges ($17,000), grants and donations ($15,500), a contribution from Louisville ($9,000) and property rental ($4,800).

Continued stagnant funding would mean budget cuts and depletion of the fund balance and would damage the library’s ability to operate, she said. However, a survey conducted in spring 2017, as well as talks with various individuals, indicated that patrons wanted more programming for seniors, teens and children; more free programs and services; and a better and more varied collection.

Ms. Dunne said they’ve been able to address some of those requests, such as providing a free sewing lab with eight machines and an increase in large print and varied collections. They also offer passes to The Wild Center and Adirondack Museum that are free for checkout, and other services.

They would be able to offer more as a school district public library, which would expand to mirror the boundaries of the Massena Central School District. Although residents of Brasher, Louisville and Norfolk also have cards to use the Massena Public Library, she said they can’t charge them for the services. So the current cost falls on the town of Massena taxpayers.

For the vote, they will be asking for authorization to establish $700,000 in community-based funding, which cannot go down and, if it increases, must be approved by voters. Ms. Dunne said the impact on a home assessed at $100,000 would be about $83 a year, and town of Massena taxpayers would save about $65 a year with the cost spread more equitably.

“It’s a matter of fairness. We’re asking everyone to pay their fair share. Hopefully they’ll let us know they like our services,” she said.

If voters don’t approve the transition to a school district public library, the library would need to reduce staff even more, reduce its hours of operation, not have the ability to do long-range planning, increase costs for services such as fax and copier machines, and charge for future programming.

The library wouldn’t close, she said. “It will just be a different type of library.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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