By Joseph Domelowicz Jr.
For the Transcript
Against a backdrop that has libraries across the region watching their bottom lines and worrying about state certification through the state Board of Library Commissioners, Winthrop Public Library appears poised to remain open through the end of the fiscal year, thanks in large part to a fundraising effort initiated by the Friends of the Winthrop Public Library in February, and a handful of staff reductions that will allow the library to operate with its available funds.
“We’re very, very close to being able to say that we’ll definitely be open through the end of June, but there are still some moving pieces, in terms of staff reductions and union issues, that are being worked out through the town manager’s office,” said Winthrop Library Director Alan Thibeault, who was almost a budget casualty himself just three weeks ago.
“We are close to where we need to be, and I think we’ll be okay for the rest of the year,” he added. “We’ll be operating with a reduced staff, and I’m going to be working with the library trustees to figure out how we can maximize our hours and make sure we meet the standards that are required by the state to maintain our certification. We don’t want to lose that certification before the end of the year, because we’re counting on [state library] funding that we only get if we remain certified.”
Thibeault noted that beyond June 30, the library’s future is increasingly uncertain.
“It’s my understanding, that the [override] ballot question, which isn’t completed yet, is being constructed in a way that asks voters simply if they want a library and a Senior Center or not,” explained Thibeault. “With other departments, the ballot question asks voters if they wish to approve funding that would maintain the budget level from 2008, but with [our two] departments, they are simply asking if the voters want the services or not, which I suppose is the right way to go about it.”
Such a question is loaded, because it includes the dollar amount that will be needed to keep the library open and certified. The budget appropriation for the Winthrop Library in the current fiscal year was $474,000. The library then got an additional $20,000 from the state for maintaining an acceptable budget.
However, if the town cuts the budget too drastically, it risks losing library certification altogether, and that would result in losing state library aid as well.
“We actually had to go before the Board of Library Commissioners at a hearing in January to maintain our certification for this year, because the town had cut the library budget from $496,000 in the previous year to $474,000 this year,” explained Thibeault. “The state kind of uses a carrot and stick approach with library funding. If you don’t drastically reduce the library hours and you maintain all of these other requirements, such as being open a required number of hours each week, they grant state aid to the library on top of the local appropriation.”
The Board of Library Commissioners, with reservations, granted Winthrop’s request for a waiver for the current fiscal year. However, a month later, the Town Council, faced with having to cut more than $500,000 from its overall state aid allocation, decided to reappropriate the funds that had been budgeted for the library elsewhere, effectively eliminating its budget and forcing an imminent closure. That would have resulted in the loss of certification, and a requirement that the town pay back the portion of state library aid it had already received.