MASSENA — Voters in Louisville and portions of Brasher and Norfolk spoke loud and clear on Tuesday, casting enough “no” votes to defeat a proposition that would have made the Massena Public Library a school district library.
The measure failed 1,640 to 892.
That means the town of Massena and its taxpayers will continue to fund the library. If the proposition had passed, the cost of running the library would have been spread out between residents of the towns of Massena and Louisville and portions of Brasher and Norfolk who live within the boundaries of the Massena Central School District.
“I was very disappointed,” library Director Elaine Dunne said. “It was a very high number, and I was surprised. Massena is basically covering the cost for all the users. We were just asking the communities to pay their fair share, but they were not willing to do so. By voting no, they agreed to subsidize the cost of the library for other users. The town of Massena was going to cut their taxes if this should pass. They voted against that.”
“I was kind of surprised. I thought the town of Massena taxpayers would have wanted to save money,” Massena Town Supervisor Steven D. O’Shaughnessy said.
Officials in the towns of Brasher, Louisville and Norfolk had urged their residents to vote “no” on the proposition and a new taxing entity. However, there had been a concern that the number of Massena voters would outdistance the number of voters in the other three towns and the measure would pass.
“We were elected to try to protect our residents as best we can. I’m not surprised (the vote failed). I just don’t think Massena was interested in it,” Norfolk Town Supervisor Charles A. Pernice said.
He said he had heard some concerns from Massena residents about handing over town assets if the measure passed. In addition, he said, “an independent board could pretty much do what they wanted,” and with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting some residents’ finances, “it was a bad time to propose a new tax.”
Town of Massena officials had pledged that, if the measure passed, they would remove the library line item from their budget. Town of Massena residents would have seen a reduction in their taxes, while residents in Louisville and portions of Brasher and Norfolk would have had a new line item on their school tax bills.
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, library officials were asking for an initial budget of $700,000. If there was a need to raise it in the future, approval from voters would be sought.
The owner of property assessed at $50,000 in Brasher would have paid a $55 library district tax, while the owner of property assessed at $50,000 in Louisville would pay $51. Norfolk residents with property assessed at $50,000 would pay $54, and town of Massena residents with a $50,000 assessment would pay $44.
The amount to be levied would be $14,476 in Brasher, $153,302 in Louisville and $488,946 in the town of Massena.
The tax would have been collected by the school district and turned over to an elected library board of trustees. However, the library would have been independent from the school district.
Some cost-saving measures had been put into place at the library because of the pandemic.
“The town already approved a reduction the library as far as staffing. That will affect our hours,” Ms. Dunne said.
But, Mr. O’Shaughnessy said, they would need to continue closely monitor their upcoming budget in anticipation of less sales tax and a potential 20 percent cut in highway funding from the state.
“Now we’ll just have to see how the state budget falls out,” he said.
The absentee ballot voting was open to residents of Massena, Brasher, Louisville and Norfolk who live within the school district’s boundaries. Ms. Dunne said she had tried to explain the gravity of the library’s finances during presentations in each town. One of the reasons was because their fund balance was drying up, she said.
With the defeat, “there are definitely going to have to be some reductions,” she said, noting three part-time employees from Louisville have already had their hours cut.
“We will be here, but won’t be offering the robust services we used to. It will be a library without a robust a collection,” she said.
“Historically, during times of economic downturn, people turn to the libraries more than ever. Library foot traffic increases dramatically. When our community needs us the most, our services are going to be shrinking,” Ms. Dunne said. “All other library votes passed in the rest of the north country. It’s a shame Massena couldn’t follow through.”
Voters also cast their ballots for an elected library board of trustees, with seven seats available. However, that vote no longer applies since the Massena Town Council will continue to appoint a five-member board.
The results were John Bain, 1,549; Susan Gray, 1,445; Marie Kirwan, 1,603; Fred LaChance, 1,490; Jeanna Matthews, 1,417; Linda McDonald, 1,671; Patricia Ryan, 1,672; and Joseph Savoca, 1,417.
The current trustees are Mr. Bain, Ms. Matthews, Ms. McDonald, Ms. Ryan and Mr. Savoca.