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RTM Committee Supports Restoring Library Money

On April 15, the RTM's Library, Museum & Arts Committee unanimously voted to recommend the restoration of $45,000 to the Westport Library budget. The library had been told by the Board of Finance to cut $100,000 from its budget. But knowing the RTM Committee could advocate for restoring some budget money, Westport Library Board President Martha Aasen and Assistant Library Director George Wagner attended the committee meeting to answer members' questions and as Mrs. Aasen put it, “try to show the flag.”

$55,000 of the required cut of $100,000 has been shaved from the library budget, the library representatives told committee members. This was accomplished, they explained, with a combination of re-opening contracts, staff salary cuts and personnel re-adjustments, But they asserted, after much review of the library's “bare bones” budget, the only option for cutting the remaining $45,000 was to close the library on 16 Sundays. Sundays, Mrs. Aasen explained, are “a finite time,” each one costing a little under $3,000. Finding a $45,000 saving elsewhere would jeopardize on-going programs.

The library's total budget of just over four and a quarter million dollars, is twenty-five percent “self-funded,” Wagner said. He confirmed for committee members that the library has “gotten every indication” the state will come through with its promised $100,000 grant.

Committee member Kevin Green asked whether Tuesday evening closings, a less painful solution than Sunday closings, would save money. Wagner explained that staff are paid for the day and so there would be no saving by closing earlier. Substituting summer day closings for Sundays was also raised. But Wagner said the library is intensely used by kids in summer for reading programs. Therefore, this option was nixed, he explained. Charging for videos was also broached but Mrs. Aasen pointed out that state law prohibits this. Just before the vote, committee chair Wendy Batteau said, “The library is the heart of the community,” and suggested it plays an important role in building up the downtown area. Committee member Jonathan Steinberg then offered a motion to restore the requested $45,000. It passed unanimously.

The vote as well as the meeting's dialogue will be detailed in a report for all RTM members. All RTM committees provide reports to the full RTM before it votes on a final town budget.

After the meeting, committee member Jonathan Steinberg singled out the library for its budget practices. “I think the library has been exemplary and perhaps a little different from some other departments within Town Hall, in having anticipated these issues and being good soliders and addressing them by seeking one time only givebacks from their union last year and for having... been an on-going innovator and reformer of their own operations.”

The RTM's budget votes take place on May 3 and 4. The new town budget goes into effect on July 1.

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