The Morristown Centennial Library won’t be getting as much financial support from the town next year as its trustees would like, but it won’t have its contribution from taxpayers slashed as much as trustees initially feared.
The town selectboard Monday agreed to keep its contribution to the library’s operating budget in the next fiscal year the same as the current one, a month after suggesting a nearly 30 percent reduction in that appropriation.
Level funding the library budget means the town will appropriate about $186,000 to Morristown Centennial. That’s about $15,000 less than library trustees asked for, but nearly $45,000 more than the town considered a month ago.
Monday’s meeting was the final round of budget talks before the budget is finalized and residents get a chance to vote on it. The final budget, with changes the board suggested Monday, was not available as of press deadline.
Town officials say they made that proposal because the library’s endowment, which funds roughly 45 percent of the annual budget, had increased substantially over the past year. Faced with double digit percentage increases in departments all over town, board chair Bob Beeman said it made sense to let the library’s endowment do more of the heavy lifting, even if just for one year.
On Tuesday, town administrator Eric Dodge said the library had received funding from the federal Paycheck Protection Program over the past two years during the pandemic.
“Every department is getting a slice taken out of it,” Dodge said. “This suggestion wasn’t punitive or anything like that.”
But, in a Jan. 5 letter to the town, the chair of the library’s board of trustees, Julie Pickett, said using extra from the endowment would violate the library’s “fiduciary responsibility to maintain the endowment responsibly,” according to the library’s financial advisors.
“The proposed reduction in funding risks the health and viability of the library,” Pickett wrote.
She warned that drawing down the endowment to offset a reduced appropriation from the town could force the library to reconsider the funding model of a roughly 55-45 split between the town and endowment — the town contributes the larger percentage — and perhaps even turn Morristown Centennial into a wholly municipal library.
Stephanie Hoffman, the library’s treasurer, said compared to a selected list of six other similarly sized libraries from all over the state, Morristown is last in per capita spending, just $32.21 per resident, at least using the $175,000 appropriation initial proposed in December.
At the same time, when compared to nearby libraries, Morristown ranks at or near the top in the number of registered borrowers and the number of material available for checking out.
The town of Stowe spends $128 per person, four times as much as Morristown. Hoffman said that’s a fair comparison because Stowe Free Library, like Morristown Centennial, gets a portion of its budget from a private endowment, but it’s a far smaller percentage.
However, Morristown Centennial is an independent, non-profit organization whose employees are not on the town payroll.
“They are a component of the town, but they run everything themselves,” Dodge said.
Monday, some criticized the selectboard for making the proposed cut to the library appropriation during a Dec. 13 meeting when there wasn’t an emissary from the library present and which was not recorded by Green Mountain Access TV. But the warning for that special budget meeting lists as an agenda item discussion of the library budget, along with the budgets for the Pleasant View Cemetery, the recreation department and the Morristown Alliance for Culture and Commerce.
Dodge said GMATV typically only records the normal selectboard meetings, which are held every other week, but the board has also met on the off weeks with a specific focus on budget talks, and those meetings have not been recorded by the public access channel.
While Hoffman was able to convince town officials to level fund the library in its town budget, Pickett said Tuesday that means the library will still have to trim as much as $15,000 from its budget. She said the trustees will look for ways to increase revenues, possibly by asking out-of-towners to pay a fee to use the library, something she said is not their first choice.
“Ultimately, the library feels that the taxpayers in the future should be paying more to support the library,” Pickett said.