Prior to their regular meeting on September 21st, the select board held a brief meeting as the Board of Assessors. They discussed with Mike O’Donnell, assessors’ agent, the possibility of having O’Donnell’s firm host the town’s assessing data, which saves a lot of time for town office staff. Prior to the board’s vote to contract out hosting for $2,000/year, which was already approved in the budget, Peter Bragdon asked that residents be able to request blacking out certain details to maintain privacy.
Fifty citizens showed up at the board meeting on Zoom, many of them speaking during public comment about the library vote, which ran an hour. Former selectman Joe Davis said he was disappointed in the No vote: “The voters are responsible for the library closing. It could have been open for 36 hours instead of zero. Maybe they should run for selectman.” Some said that the vote was confusing. Linda Chase, vice-chair, said that some people voted no because they don’t think we need a library.
But others emphasized that the No vote was not about the board members, but expressing objections to cutting the library’s budget and staffing after so many had clearly expressed the importance of keeping the library fully funded and operating. “It’s at the center of our community, a lively place for all ages,” noted library trustees chair CeCe Rohrbach. “We need to restore full staffing, hours and budget.” Frank Chambers said that in the tough time we’re living in, we need the library more than ever. The library is the “soul of this community.”
Several people spoke of the critical nature of the library’s support for students, now that school is back in session, and for townspeople without internet access. Others mentioned the other activities hosted by the library, from 4-H (the only library-based club in Cumberland County), to the maker space, which was built by a local Eagle Scout. Colleen Strickler wondered, having heard comments that there should be a cost analysis of the library’s effectiveness done, why such an analysis wasn’t conducted before the budget and staff were cut. Carol Gillis, a member of Friends of the Library, noted that the library budget comprises just 1.6% of the town budget. “There seems to be funds available for trucks and to increase the public works budget for paving, deemed to be in the town’s best interest. I believe that a fully funded and staffed library is in the town’s best interest.”
Board chair Karen Gilles appeared to read a prepared statement about the history of the budget cuts and changes, leading to the compromise put forth to the voters that she felt was reasonable. “I hope we can resolve this issue.” She said the board had been unaware of the ramifications of a no vote, requiring that the library be closed and the staff let go. They will have to reapply for their positions. Gilles also said there isn’t time to get through the process of developing a new budget and getting a ballot ready for the November 3rd election.
A few people had raised the possibility of using emergency funds to keep the library open, but town manager Brenda Fox-Howard explained that the budget must be approved by the voters. Board members Tammy Donovan and Peter Bragdon urged the group to move forward as quickly as possible. Donovan said, “We can rush through a truck purchase that will be used by one person, but not to get the library open for all the people who need it.”
That sense of urgency did not prevail. Instead, the town manager will schedule a meeting with the board and library trustees to discuss how to move forward. She will also bring back budget figures to the board at their next regular meeting on October 5th.
After the lengthy session focusing on the library, the board cruised through a number of other items, approving a general assistance policy, a road name, a new class of license that will allow NU Brewery to serve wine and seat patrons indoors, and a revised purchasing policy. And they agreed to accept tax payments without penalty the Monday after the due dates in October and April. The town office will close at 5 PM on November 2nd, for the entire day on November 3rd for the election, and the 4th for ballot counting.
The video of this meeting may be viewed here.