GYRL to close - Without funding, April 1 will be the final day

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILMANTON — The Board of Directors of the Gilmanton Year-Round Library Association announced yesterday that the library will close on Friday, April 1.
Chris Schlegel, president of the association, said yesterday after the Town Meeting voted not to fund the operation of the library, the decision to close could not be avoided.
"Lots of people are offering donations," she said, "but with two employees, we just can't keep going month to month. We have to get through the entire year."
A statement on library's website said "We are saddened to see this day come" and tersely noted "The decision do this was not easy, but was necessary." Indicating that the closure may not be irrevocable, the statement continued: "We are still accepting donations. Please make note either way if you wish to be refunded in the event the library does not reopen."
Schlegel said the association will host a "community conversation" at the library about its future on Friday, March 18, beginning at 7 p.m.
Schlegel said funding from the town represents about two-thirds of the library's annual operating budget of $76,400 with donations from benefactors and proceeds from fundraising providing the balance. This year, there were two petitioned articles on the warrant to fund the library, both of which failed. One would have provided $47,500 a year for two years and, if that failed, another that would have appropriated $50,000 for 2016 alone.
Acknowledging that funding for the library has been a source of controversy and dissension since it opened in 2009, Schlegel said that she was somewhat surprised by the votes, which she suggested reflected concern aroused by the rise in the tax rate and increase in the town budget this year.
Kristen Menard, who operates the Before and After School Enrichment (BASE) Program, said "without the library, don't know what we'll do." She said that 68 children are enrolled in her program, as many as 35 of whom regularly cross NH Route 140 from the school to spend time at the library. "It's like having a movie theater, art gallery, petting zoo and everything," Menard said. "We go for every program they offer."
Menard said that when the closure was announced yesterday she began hearing from parents and children almost at once. "They're asking 'what can we do for the library?'" she said. With the library closed, she expected her program will be confined to the school. "We cannot do at the school all we can do at the library," she remarked.
Carol Locke, principal of Gilmanton Elementary School, said that "the library has been a very valuable resource and I'm very sad it is closing." She said that the greatest impact will fall on the after-school program, especially on early release days and among younger children." She said that students use the resources of the library to do research, particularly those those without access to the Internet.
The library, which was built, furnished, equipped and stocked with private funds, has been a bone of contention in town since it before it opened in June 2009. That year, the association sought an appropriation of $75,000 from the town to operate the library, sparking heated, often bitter debate that has persisted ever since. Some insist that the town never asked for the library and, more importantly, claimed that the association pledged not to seek funding from the town to operate it.
After much debate at Town Meeting, voters denied the request for funding by nearly a two-to-one margin and only the generosity of an anonymous benefactor enabled the library to open. Within 18 months, the library had issued 1,022 cards, served 12,216 patrons and circulated 14,567 items. Today the library counts 1,769 cardholders and served 895 patrons in January alone.
In 2010, 2011 and 2012, voters approved warrant articles to fund the library, but in 2013, the first year of official ballot voting after the adoption of SB 2, funding was denied by a vote of 400 against to 322 in favor. But, funding for the library carried by 17 votes in 2014 and by 94 votes in 2015, before failing this year.

Sanbornton cuts $40,000 from town budget, then adds $586,000

SANBORNTON — More than 300 voters filled gymnasium at Sanbornton Central School to overflowing and spent five-and-half hours trimming $40,000 from the operating budget and wading through 14 warrant articles, five of which together added $586,518 in spending to the $3.8 million budget at Town Meeting this week.
After agreeing to return the town planner to a 32-hour work week, Roger Grey proposed amending the budget to scuttle a cost-of-living-allowance (COLA) for town employees, freeze the salary of the Fire Chief and level fund the library budget. Grey requested his amendment be put to a secret ballot, slowing the pace of the meeting.
The count stalled when the ballot box was found to be locked and the key gone astray. But Moderator Tim Lang shuffled the warrant, bringing to the fore proposals to fund construction of a Parks and Recreation building and hire two full-time firefighters, which both failed, the second by another time consuming secret ballot. As the bewitching hour came and and went, voters adopted another half-dozen warrant articles, including spending $500,000 for road improvements, while discarding proposals to charge fees for pickings from the metal pile at the transfer station and regulate "unreasonable noise" in public places throughout the town.
Nina Gardner told the meeting that by being limited to 20 hours a week, the planner had no time to apply to economic development. She said the issue is a matter of "pay me now or pay me later," explaining that expanding the tax base, especially the share of commercial property, would be "a smart investment." She was echoed by Evelyn Auger, who chairs the Planning Board, who said that the $7,500 increase in the budget would prove "a money maker in the long run." By a margin of 142 to 134, the voters agreed.
"We've got to start making some tough decisions in this town," Grey, a member of the Budget Committee, began. "We can't go on as we are or we'll only be a community for the rich." He proposed eliminating the 2 percent COLA, denying the fire chief a $4,000 raise and striking the increase in the library budget, all of which would amount to $40,000, or 1 percent of the operating budget.
Craig Davis, Grey's colleague on the Budget Committee, reminded the meeting that the committee did not share Grey's opinion and pointed out while the salaries and wages of other state, county and municipal employees have risen significantly, the 1.5 percent COLA awarded to town employees last year was their only increase in eight years. The 2 percent COLA, he said, would add seven cents to the tax rate. Likewise, he said that the fire chief was hired at low end of the scale and also deserved a modest raise.
Grey's amendment carried by a margin of 163 votes in favor to 143 votes against.
By the time the result was announced, voters had withheld $98,000 to replace the building that housed the Parks and Recreation Department, which was demolished after being condemned by the town's insurance carrier. Tracy Wood of the Parks and Recreation Commission told the meeting that the $98,000 represented a one-time increase of 22 cents to the tax rate. "We have no home," she said, explaining that the department operated 12 programs, hosted six activities and staged special events for some 400 children and 50 adults. A half dozen parents spoke of the benefits the department provided for their children while others peppered Wood with questions about the annual operating costs of the facility. Ultimately, the proposal failed by a dozen votes, 147 to 135, on a division vote.
Fire Chief Paul Dexter spoke in support of his request to add two firefighters at a cost of $135,200, which was rejected the year before by just four votes. He explained that with only call and per diem firefighters the department frequently faces "a huge gap in coverage between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.," when it fields half its calls for service, most of which are for medical emergencies. The additional personnel would enable the department to staff a 12-hour daytime shift from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. seven days a week, with one full-time firefighter/EMT and one part-time per diem firefighter/EMT, he said.
Dave Nickerson, the outgoing chairman of the Board of Selectmen, who voted not to recommend the article, told voters that the Tilton-Northfield Fire & EMS Department is building a new station and referred to a specific site for the facility. "There is an opportunity here," he said, suggesting that Sanbornton could join in a regional department. "The door is open to talk to Tilton-Northfield before jumping into hiring two firefighters," he said.
When Selectman Johnny Van Tassel discounted the prospects of a regional department, Dave DeVoy, chairman of the Belknap County Commission, countered that "regionalization can happen as fast as the selectmen want it to happen."
By a second secret ballot voters soundly rejected the article, 191 to 95.
With that, the firefighters moved to reconsider the budget to grant the chief his pay raise. They were told the budget could only be reconsidered at a special town meeting. Stepping to the microphone, Dexter said he appreciated the gesture, but he could not support spending $5,000 to hold a special town meeting to give him a $4,000 raise.

Not just day care - $1.5 million in school cuts being debated

LACONIA — A dozen city residents, including three Huot Center Child Development Center employees who could lose their jobs, came to the School Board Budget and Personnel Committee Thursday to object to the proposed closure of the child care center, as well as more than $1.5 million in cuts being considered for the 2016-2017 proposed budget.
The latest board proposal is to convert the existing child center space to a preschool classroom that will hold two half-day sessions with certified teachers. The program will be eligible for federal Title I funding.
Business Administrator Ed Emond said the $82,000 projected shortfall in the current program could never have been covered by a federal Perkins grant.
With the elimination of the Child Development Center and its two-and-a-half employees, plus 14 other School District teachers, an administrator at the Middle School, the elimination of the hospitality program at the Huot Center, and some administrative secretaries, the first-level cuts being looked at total $1,513,339.
Second-level cuts could bring the total to $1,696,995. They would include reductions in some after-school programs, including athletics, band, drama and similar activities.
Committee Chairman Scott Vachon said a third level of cuts has been considered but they would prevent the School District from meeting its educational mission.
Administrators said they must eliminate a minimum of $1.19 million from the budget for next school year to meet the restrictions of the city's property tax cap, which limits the growth in taxes that may be collected to a factor of inflation.
It is required by the city charter for their proposed budget to be at or under the cap.
Many of the parents at the meeting blamed the tax cap for the budget problems now facing the School District.
Sean Valovanie asked the members of the Budget and Personnel Committee if they had talked to the City Council.
"The problem is the tax cap," he said. "It has to come from the City Council."
He said half-day preschool programs like the one proposed don't work for middle-income families as only the poor and the wealthy can send their children to half-day programs because of work constraints.
When Chad Vaillancourt asked if the city can override the tax cap, it was explained to him that it is possible but when it comes to building a budget for the 2017-18 school year, the district will be back in the same place because an override is good for one-year only. Any additional budgets will be based on the cap before the override.
Members of the committee said they don't foresee the Consumer Price Index - Urban, which is a federal number that measures inflation and is used in part to calculate the permitted increase in property taxes, rising much more in 2016, leaving the School District in the same place it is now come the next budget. The CPI-U for 2015 was near zero.
Superintendent Phil McCormack said he has met with City Manager Scott Meyers and believes that the city will come under similar constraints for its part of the overall budget as the School District.
As for the Child Development Center, head instructor Colleen Bownes said they had the capacity to take in about twice the number of children and charge more for the program. She and others noted that it is not simply a daycare but works to prepare children for school.
Emond explained that the educational model for students who want to go into teaching that used to focus on the Child Development Center is no longer supported by the state Department of Education. He said the new education model for high school students who hope to teach is based on interactions with students at all levels of school, including the two proposed pre-kindergarten classes.
The committee went into a nonpublic session to further discuss the specific cuts and how individual employees could be affected. The next School Board meeting is on March 15 at 7 p.m. at the SAU Offices on Harvard Street.