After four years of no increases, Naugatuck’s public-private library is asking the borough for a hike in its annual budget.
Members of the approached the joint Board of Mayor and Burgesses and Board of Finance on Monday with a proposed budget for the next fiscal year that calls for increase of $24,834, or 4.3 percent.
But, after deliberating on the issue, the joint boards agreed to a proposed increase of $13,000, or about 2.2 percent.
The library’s relationship to Naugatuck is different from other borough-operated departments. It’s a private “association library,” meaning it’s funded by both nonprofit efforts and public dollars. Also, it is not directly under control of the borough although Naugatuck, through an arrangement set several years ago, gives the library a chunk of money every time it comes to budget season.
The split in that funding currently is about 80-20, with 80 percent of its operating budget coming from taxpayers and 20 percent from a private fund set up by the Whittemore family a century ago.
The proposed budget for 2012-13 was $762,767, and the request from the library to the town was for $601,834. But after the discussions, the board agreed to a $590,000 allocation, up from $577,000 in the 2011-12 fiscal year.
Nothing is set in stone, however, until the summer when the joint boards review all of the collective budgets and votes on them. And, even at that point, the 2012-13 budget would still be subject to a possible referendum — should the voters petition one.
But, the potential increase is still the first one the library has seen since the 2007-08 fiscal year, explained Charles Marenghi, a local teacher and chairman of the library’s Board of Directors.
Marenghi gave an impassioned speech on why Naugatuck should consider the proposed $25,000 hike. He said the library has acted as a shelter during the October snow storm, has been a “defacto” unemployment office with patrons using the computers and has been, in some cases, the only reason why some residents come downtown at all.
“We’ve done the same or less for long enough, we can no longer do the same or less,” Marenghi told the board members. “We can’t hold it any longer at a zero-percent increase. The proposed increase is $24,834. That’s less than a $1 per resident.”
The four years of no increases has left the library seeking more private funds and donations. It’s also had to adjust its own budget midyear, cutting hours to its non-union staff and eliminating Monday as a day to be open.
“The town requested of that we increase our funding efforts, which we have,” Marenghi said. “We’ve restructured our payroll to make sure we’re able to cover health benefits, and we’ve done all of this while still maintaining the level of service that you had in 2008.”
And, he added, in 2012, “We’ve been able to open on Monday’s again.”
Jocelyn Miller, the library director, said there has been no budget for books for the past several years because money that was set aside toward new book purchases had to be reallocated to another expense.
Both Marenghi and Miller noted that the library was able to purchase some new books, grimly enough, when two of its long-time staff members died. Money that usually went to paying their salaries was able to be directed to the book fund.
“Which is a sad way to have to get your book money,” Miller said.
There was little initial feedback from the joint board members, although one finance board member, Matt Katra, questioned why the library's proposed increase called for a straight 3-percent hike along all line items. Normally, Katra said, borough departments will ask for an increase on one line item, while decreasing another line item.
But, according to the library officials, the across-the-board increase was needed to satisfy auditors that would be reviewing the library funding.
Ultimately, the board had a long discussion about the issue following the Board of Directors' presentation, explained finance board member Diane Scinto.
"High kudos to them for what they have done with the money that’s been given to them with trying to raise money and donations," Scinto said. "I think we split it down the middle and what we wanted to give them."
Unfortunately, while they wanted to fulfill the library's full request, "we can't give everybody everything," she said.
"In my mind (the fund raising) shows that they are looking for other revenue sources they’re not just saying ‘were just going to work with this,'" Scinto said.