Barre Town budget group questions library, BADC
BARRE TOWN — Two joint ventures with neighboring Barre are being questioned as the town’s annual budget-building process enters the home stretch.
A 10-member budget committee, which includes the local Select Board, opened Tuesday night’s session by quizzing representatives of the Aldrich Public Library at length and ended amid questions about whether the town is getting its money’s worth from the Barre Area Development Corp.
No decisions were made regarding either organization because on a night when the panel had hoped to wrap up its annual deliberations it didn’t even come close.
The committee spent the better part of two hours discussing proposed modifications to the equipment fund, but never actually got to the general fund — unless, that is, you count a last-minute decision to add $300 to the budget to buy baseball caps for members of the town’s police department.
Faced with a looming deadline for finalizing a budget that will be on the ballot in Barre Town on May 14, the committee agreed to schedule an extra session next Monday with an eye toward tying up any loose ends next Tuesday.
The discussion could get interesting because there appears to be another battle brewing over funding for the local library and possibly the Barre Area Development Corp.
Though the composition of the committee changes from one year to the next, the panel has flirted with cutting funding for the Barre-based library in the past. It is again, though the $21,090 cut proposed by committee member Jaime Fewer wasn’t mentioned in his absence Tuesday night. The committee didn’t get that far, though it did entertain a contingent of library boosters led by Barre Town resident Nancy Pope.
Pope, who serves as chairwoman of the library’s board of trustees, reminded the committee that, despite annual requests for increases, the town’s contribution to the library has been level-funded at $103,000 for the last four years.
Town Manager Carl Rogers has recommended bumping that figure up to $106,500 — a 3 percent increase. However, the cut suggested by Fewer would drop it to $85,410.
Pope reminded the committee that trustees have asked both Barres — the city and the town — to each contribute $150,000 toward the operation of the main library and its newly renovated branch in East Barre. The city, she said, has a specific plan to do that, having earmarked $122,000 for the library this year, and an increase from the town would be welcome.
Pope noted that only 48 percent of the library’s $450,000 budget comes from tax revenue — a figure, she said, that is significantly less than the statewide average of 73 percent.
Pope and Library Director Karen Lane fielded questions about everything from the library’s hours of operation to its payroll and received the endorsement of long-time residents Rita Isabelle and Sue Talmadge, who were part of a delegation of library supporters who attended the meeting.
“I think it’s a very valuable asset,” Talmadge said of the library.
Though Pope tried to get a read on where the committee stood on the library, Select Board Chairman Jeff Blow said that would likely be a discussion for a different night.
Blow was right. The committee never got back to the library, though it did deal with a series of adjustments to the equipment fund and briefly discussed a concern about Barre Area Development Corp. that was raised by member Bill Kirby.
Kirby, who said he wouldn’t be able to attend Monday’s meeting, said he has an issue with the fact that the town’s ambulance director and zoning administrator are paid less than the executive director of BADC.
“It’s a question of responsibility,” Kirby said, arguing the two town department heads have more responsibility than the executive director of an economic development organization that is jointly funded by Barre and Barre Town.
Though there was nothing approaching consensus on the subject, committee member Jason Pinard did say it might be worth the town’s while to invest its $52,220 contribution to BADC in an economic development person that would focus exclusively on the town.
Heading into Monday’s meeting, the general fund budget proposed by Rogers reflects a spending increase of $107,735, or 3.5 percent. That includes fully funding BADC and contemplates a 3 percent increase for the library.
According to Rogers’ projections, approval of that budget would require a 1.5-cent increase in the local tax rate and add $30 to the tax bill for a $200,000 home.
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