Massena Public Library officials are expected to ask voters this year to approve a new way to fund the library, which they say would spread the cost more equitably among users. Bob Beckstead/Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — Massena Public Library officials are expected to ask voters this year to approve a new way to fund the library, which they say would spread the cost more equitably among users.

The library is currently funded by the town of Massena, but library officials want to transition to a school district public library. Those libraries have service areas that coincide with school district boundaries in which they’re located. In Massena’s case, the school district includes Massena, Louisville and portions of Brasher and Norfolk, meaning those would be responsible for funding the library rather than just Massena taxpayers.

The library would receive funds directly from school district taxpayers by asking them to vote on a resolution placed on the annual school district ballot. If the funding proposition passes, the school district collects the taxes and turns the library funds over to members of an elected library board. School district taxpayers would pay an amount based on their assessed property value.

But Norfolk Town Supervisor Charles Pernice says he is “dead set” against the change, partially because Norfolk taxpayers are already paying for their local and school libraries.

“There are 643 tax parcels in the town of Norfolk within the Massena School District, roughly 25 percent of our total parcel count. Those folks are already taxed by the town of Norfolk to pay for the Norfolk Hepburn Library, taxed by whatever school district they reside in to pay for their school library, and now the Massena Library wants them to pay for their library, too,” Mr. Pernice said.

Library Director Elaine Dunne said during a recent “Community Conversation” that the library’s 2020 budget is $683,750. The town of Massena’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 the town of Louisville ($9,000) and property rental ($4,800).

However, she said, the library’s budget has remained stagnant for the past 10 years because of issues such as the tax cap, a loss of tax dollars and other competing financial priorities

At the same time, the increasing costs include salaries, resources, technology upgrades, building maintenance and utility costs. In order to cut costs, positions that were full-time have been reduced to part-time. Library hours have been reduced from three evenings a week to two evenings, and 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.

Continued stagnant funding would mean budget cuts and depletion of the fund balance and would damage the library’s ability to operate, Ms. Dunne said.

“The Massena Library is upset their funding has been stagnant for the last 10 years from the town of Massena, so they want to expand their tax base into three other towns. There appears to be an attitude of not being willing to live within their budget, so we’ll just find some other folks to tax so we can have some more money to spend. That attitude is why New York state is always one of the highest taxed states in the country. People just want to keep spending and just raise taxes,” Mr. Pernice said.

“No matter how you look at this, this is a tax increase for three additional towns for a municipal library unhappy with what the town of Massena gives them annually. It would also be a one-time pass on the tax cap because, as a new taxing jurisdiction, they can ask for whatever they want initially and won’t be bound by the tax cap until the second year,” he said.

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.

“The voters attending school district votes are historically low in numbers, so I am sure they are using that prospect for what would be a back door tax increase,” Mr. Pernice said. “I intend to mail a letter to every one of my taxpayers in the town of Norfolk residing in the Massena School District just prior to the vote with my feelings on this and encouraging them to go vote.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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