15 Sep 2014
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Preparations Being Made for Discussion of the Library Trust

Several members of the public criticized cuts to Edith Wheeler Memorial Library's budget request.

Preparations Being Made for Discussion of the Library Trust

The Edith Wheeler Memorial Trust has available funding for the library in town, but there is a disagreement between the Library Board and the Board of Finance over how the funds should be used.

Library Board Chairman Bill Ehlers says it is meant to be used for things over and above the operating budget, which is still the responsibility of the town. However, Board of Finance Chairman Mark Reed points to a line in the trust document saying it is for general purposes.

"That is where the discussion is going to be next time," Reed said at the Board of Finance meeting last week. "We need to clear that up."

There was no in-depth discussion over the trust on Wednesday night, because Library Board Chairman Bill Ehlers and John Chiota, the attorney for the trust, could not make the meeting.

Margaret Borchers, director of Edith Wheeler Library, attended the meeting and Board of Finance members asked her to relay their request for specific information from the Library Board of Directors for a future discussion on the trust.

Among the information the board asked for was a copy of the trust document with all personal information redacted, so members of the public who want a copy may have one; and the library's financial information over the last five years showing how income from the trust has been spent.

"I hope five years isn't too onerous," Reed said to Borchers.

Reed said Board of Finance members support the library, but added they are "numbers guys" and have to be "watchdogs" and "make sure things are spent the way they should be."

Criticism Over Cuts

During a budget workshop, the Board of Finance had cut the library's request for everything that was not contractual, which did not sit well with some voters who attended last week's meeting.

Steve Schapiro said, "In my opinion, in the last five years, the library has gone before the Board of Finance and the Town Council and gotten squat. They haven't gotten a lick of anything. I think Margaret Borchers is owed an apology for how she was treated when she came to speak at a budget workshop."

Schapiro also told the Board of Finance he thought it was wrong to decide to freeze the library's budget until it had more information on the trust. He said he thought the board should have put the requested funding aside, then after finding how the trust should be used, either give it to the library or return it to the general fund if it is found that the trust can be used for the expenses.

"I think some people voted no because of that," Schapiro said. "There have been rumblings through town that it didn't sit well."

He also expressed disappointment with First Selectman Steve Vavrek for not restoring the funds — including $15,000 in raises for part-timers — after the budget went down in the first referendum.

"Year after year they ask for a quarter, a nickle, a dime for these people, who work hard," Schapiro said of the part-time staff. "It's a slap in the face."

Town Council Chairwoman Enid Lipeles, who frequently uses the library, also attended the meeting. She said staff members are "the most pleasant people" and praised them for their patience in helping library patrons. Schapiro suggested taking $15,000 out of the roads account and using it for raises for part-time staff members.

Lipeles said she sees families checking out music and movies on dvd, saving money in a bad economy, and people who do not have access to the Internet at home coming to the library to use its computers.

Town Councilwoman Debra Dutches said the council had approved "some fairly substantial increases" for the library budget which it thought was necessary, before the finance board took it out.

For the library to have no increase, Dutches said, "I think it's a bad thing for the people of Monroe. Usage has gone up. It's a beautiful building."

Reed said the Town Council actually decreased the library's budget request, then Dutches countered that the council still approved a net increase in spending from the current fiscal year.

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