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.
Thanks for these thoughts.
According to a lead legislative library advocate, we have, in fact, already given the state library board the authority to grant waivers to the mandates. If the Belmont Board of Library Trustees chooses to seek a waiver to allow cost-cutting, I would be happy to assist them. They would have to initiate it.
I’m absolutely a supporter of regionalization and have, along with others, been pushing regionalization of fire and public health services. The Board of Selectmen in Belmont has increasing interest in these issues too.
Library regionalization has already occurred in the sense of book sharing. But if you are talking about closing facilities and sending Belmont people to Arlington or Watertown, for example, you are probably going further than most people are ready to go. Closing the tiny Benton branch took ten years.
Very helpful Will. Would you know if Arlington is looking at cutting Library spending at a level that would require a waiver?
I’ll admit that $250k budgeted for buying new materials at the BPL would make a huge dent in the $370k shortfall to get the Schools off life support. Town leaders appear fearful of the accrediation threat.
Imagine a well staffed Library open long hours and weekends. If Belmont consolidated buildings with say Arlington’s Library (on the bike path) that could be realized. Otherwise it will likely require Belmont to privately raise funds to build a new Library because the Town does not support a debt exclusion to build one based on past surveys. It would also free up the BPL building to be retrofitted for the future Police Station which is good for the environment 😉
Our understanding is that the basic answer is yes, Arlington will have to apply for a waiver for FY11. Their budget was cut $25,000. The BLC sets what is called a Municipal Appropriation Requirement. Arlington had to apply 4 years ago. Her budget for FY11 is not voted yet, but the $25,000 cut presently in it would require a waiver. They also require that the library cut not be disproportionate to the other departments in town. The town’s comptroller has to supply all the budgets of all the departments to verify this. The Board of Library Commissioners receives all the documents and makes the decision. If the cuts are above a certain percentage, then the local officials have to go before a hearing but her request will not be. She feels that the Commissioners will grant all reasonable waivers this year and probably next, though of course nothing is ever certain.
Previously about 10 waivers were granted each year but in FY10 it was unlimited and will be unlimited in FY11.
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