As you well know many Towns and Cities are in crisis mode dealing with budget shortfalls. In Belmont we are looking at approx a $3.2m deficit assuming a $300k transfer from free cash is applied. An Override is on the table but it is uncertain it will pass and the consequences of passing it on residents may be worse than the consequences of rejecting it and living within the budget. Arlington is in an equally difficult situation.
So assuming the Override fails… one has to look at where you find $3.2m to cut. The Town and Schools have done this exercise in Belmont and the results are noticeably significant on the School side meaning a number of Classroom Teachers being cut. As you peruse the budget there are only a handful of areas one can cut from. The Pool/Rink/Library and COA are among them before you get into essential service cuts. Here is where the problem lies…
The Library is the biggest ticket item in Belmont. It costs over $1.7m to run. $250k of that goes toward buying new books and magazines etc.. It is an obvious area to cut significantly when compared to Public safety and Public Education. The problem is the State threatens to rescind accreditation if the Library budget is cut disproportionately to these other “mandated” services. I understand the concept behind the accreditation threat but quite frankly these are not ordinary times and this rule leaves Towns with the unenviable choice of disabling Public Education and Public Safety vs. the outright closing of a Library. So… is anything being done at the State level to put a temporary moratorium on the loss of accreditation for Public Libraries?
Public Libraries would be a perfect choice for Regionalization between (Belmont/Arlington and Lexington) or Belmont/Watertown and the present crisis may finally motivate Towns to explore that choice. The Legislative body could encourage that by changing the minimum funding levels for a Regional Library to a per capita amount versus the present formula. I know Privatization is being explored but that seems more of a Hail Mary. Doing nothing doesn’t bode well for the future of Public Libraries in Belmont because that $1.7m will be scrutinized by Parents wondering why there are 30 kids in a classroom and no new textbooks… while the Library has $250k to spend on new goodies each year.