Library, Community Center plea to keep funding

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

The Bridgton Board of Selectmen told the trustees of the Bridgton Public Library Tuesday evening exactly what they previously said to the directors of the Bridgton Community Center — times are tough and cuts that have never before been proposed during the municipal budget process can not be avoided — not this year, at least.

Historically, voters at the annual town meeting have appropriated $75,000 to both the Bridgton Public Library and the Bridgton Community Center (BCC).

The selectmen have met several times this spring to review and discuss Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2012. They have reduced the bottom lines of municipal departments, saying they felt they had to do the same for outside agencies, regardless of how beneficial their services are to townspeople.

David N. Hursty, president of the Bridgton Public Library’s Board of Trustees, implored the selectmen April 26 not to make their suggested $5,000 cut to the library’s appropriation, saying it was the trustees’ “attempt to have you maintain level funding” for the library.

“The $75,000 represents under 50% of our budget,” said Hursty. “Every year, we have to raise over $80,000. We also look to support from the town — it’s an equilibrium for us. That $5,000 really does make a difference. We watch every penny.”

Hursty said that, no matter what, the trustees are committed to having the library open one more day a week.

The library distributes 40,000 tapes, books and CDs per year, “not counting the Internet,” Hursty said.

“If taxpayers paid $10 a piece (for books, if they had to buy them) that would be $400,000,” stated Hursty. “So, we provide a great return on investment — enormous benefits — and we get 15,000 people coming in, because they know our value — the rewards are tripled or quadrupled. And, we count on the support of the town and town leaders that they value what we do…we want to partner with the town on that.”

Hursty told the selectmen that “the courage is not to do it (the proposed $5,000 cut).”

“To stay tough with services, the courage is really right here,” Hursty said. “I urge you to take political courage and make the right step. We’re not looking for a larger appropriation amount to operate our library.”

“I hear what you’re saying,” Selectman Paul Hoyt told Hursty. “I disagree with you that the hard thing to do would be to not make the ($5,000) cut.

Hoyt pointed out that the board has made some major reductions to other appropriation line items, including town departments, the Bridgton Community Center and United Ambulance Service.

“We sat here and took $250 out of a $500 budget,” said Hoyt, referring to the five-hour-long budget workshop April 11, at which the board went through the entire proposed budget with a fine-toothed comb. “It was a long night. The (proposed) tax rate is going up 55 cents and that’s down from an original increase of $1.20 per $1,000 of property valuation.”

Hoyt said the selectmen decided to reduce the number of days the town’s transfer station is open, saying they did that “because we have to save money.”

“No one took it lightly, the cuts we made,” said Hoyt.

Hursty said, “My great concern is for the long-term — that there will be a degradation of services  — and that it will slowly denegrate the (services offered to) community  — maybe not in one or two years. That’s my greatest fear…”

Selectmen Chairman Arthur Triglione told Hursty, “Believe me, it took more courage for me to cut (budget requests) than not cut.”

Chairman Triglione said further that it’s the selectmen’s job to make cuts where necessary, and they “should not have to justify why.”

“We’re working hard to keep every taxpayer in mind,” said Triglione.

“We have counted on level funding, and it’s going to cost $10,000 more (per year) to stay open one more day (per week),” said Hursty. He said the trustees might have to “dip in to our endowment a little bit,” if the town’s appropriation is reduced.

Bridgton Community Center

Steve Collins, who is the president of the Bridgton Community Center’s Board of Directors, asked the selectmen April 26 to consider placing an article on the June annual town meeting warrant that would tell voters selectmen were recommending a reduction from $75,000 to $67,500, but that would allow townspeople to approve the $75,000 if they so choose.

“It gives the town a chance to say, ‘We respectfully disagree,’” said Collins.

Typically, the selectmen have a closed warrant at town meeting, which does not allow for articles requesting monetary appropriations to be increased, but they can be decreased by voters.

Collins asked that if that is not possible, could the board consider making a smaller reduction from the typical $75,000 of three or four percent?

It was pointed out that, under the memorandum of understanding (MOU) the town has with the Bridgton Community Center, the town is to pay the Center $75,000 per year or 45% of its operating costs, or whichever is less. The directors said their budget totals $107,000, and $75,000 is 63 percent of the total budget, much more than the historically appropriated $75,000.

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