Small town, three libraries - Gilmanton debates funding Year-Round Library, two others have survived for a century

Conceived of by its supporters as a unifying force in this largely rural community of 3,800, the Gilmanton Year-Round Library continues to be at the center of an ongoing dispute over the funding of its operating costs seven years after it opened its doors.
Gilmanton has two other small libraries that receive modest levels of official town support but are not open on a full-time basis; the Corner Library next to the former Gilmanton Academy building which now houses town offices and the Gilmanton Iron Works Library, built in 1916 which is only open during the summer months,
The Corner Library, housed in what had been Ira Pennock's cobbler shop, celebrated its 100th anniversary as a library in 2012 and is open six hours a week during the winter. Both of the small libraries lack room for expansion
Deb Chase, a trustee of the Gilmanton Corner Library, said the Corner Library is the only true public library in town because it is owned by the public. She says that the other two libraries are privately owned and controlled by private boards of directors.
But neither of the older libraries has ever been funded at the levels of the newer year-round library.
This year, voters will be faced with a petitioned warrant article which would authorize the town to spend $50,000 a year for the next three years to support the library's operations, which because it totals an appropriation of more than $100,000, will require a 60 percent majority vote. Another petitioned warrant article calling for an appropriation of $50,000 to support the library's operations will also be on the ballot will require only a majority vote.
Built as a result of a nearly decade-long drive by volunteers who decided to create a modern full-service library in one of the only towns in the state that lacked a full-time public library, the library was built from an 18th century barn which was found in North Hampton and was dismantled and moved to a five-acre field across from the Gilmanton School where it was reassembled.
The volunteer group led by Elizabeth Bedard was formed in 1998 and raised $675,000, mostly in donations and grants as well as fundraisers like selling T-shirts and mugs, holding ice cream socials and walkathons and publishing a cookbook of local recipes.
Its efforts were rewarded with a completed two-story timber-frame building which highlights the rough-hewn beams from the original barn and is surrounded by a modern shell. Inside are more than 8,000 books, six computers for public use and wireless Internet for those with laptops, as well as audio books, newspapers, magazines, DVDs and CDs.
The group even had plans to establish an endowment fund which would pay the operational costs of the library and in 2008 started advertising in alumni magazines of Harvard and other Ivy League colleges in an effort to attract a donor for whom the library would be named.
But that never materialized, and late in 2008 the group announced that it would ask for $75,000 at the 2009 Town Meeting to fund the library's operations.
After a divisive, bitter debate, the article was defeated by a convincing margin, 224 to 125, at the March Town Meeting. Opponents claimed the association members had long promised they would never ask for tax dollars to support their library.
The Year-Round library was able to open in 2009 after it received a gift of $75,000 from an anonymous donor and ever since then it has turned to the community for support for its operating budget, usually in the $45,000 range.
But in 2013, the first year of SB 2 official ballot law voting, the funding request was turned down 400-322, raising concerns over whether or not the library would remain open. In 2014, the funding article passed by just 17 votes, and in 2015 it won by nearly 100 votes.
Selectman Don Guarino, who said he is a card-carrying supporter of the library, said the dispute lingers due to what he says were promises by library supporters that the facility "would never become a burden to taxpayers."
He says that there are good people on both sides of the public funding issue and that he would prefer to see the operating funds raised through community donations rather than property taxes.
Guarino said that selectmen will have to vote soon on whether they support or oppose the petitioned warrant articles as that information must be on the printed ballots at town meeting.
Chris Schlegel, president of the library association, said that the organization decided to ask for a three-year commitment of funds from townspeople in part because members felt that the yearly requests have become a divisive force in the community.
But, more importantly, she said that knowing the funds will be available in future years will allow the librarians to plan programs more effectively.
"It also shows that we're still committed to raising funds for the library's operations well into the future," said Schlegel.

Gilford School Board refuses to support operating budget that cuts raises

GILFORD — School Board members voted 4-to-1 not to support the proposed budget for the 2016-17 school year that will eliminate half of the raises recommended for the non-union staff.

The meeting was held after Tuesday night's Budget Committee's public hearing for their version of the budget, which is the one which will appear on the ballot in March. The total budget recommended by the Budget Committee was reduced by $115,508 largely by reducing the amount of raises for non-union staff from the 3 percent requested by the School Board to 1.5 percent.

The vote represents the board's unwillingness to support the cuts to support staff raises made by the budget committee but is not an endorsement of the default budget that has no raises.

"What I was hearing loudly, over and over, was concern for the support staff," said member Sue Allen.

"Personally, I think the purpose of a public hearing is to listen," she continued, referring to the continued back-and-forth between members of the public and some members of the Budget Committee during the hearing.

Member Chris McDonough was the lone dissenting vote for supporting the Budget Committee budget and said he feared not recommending it could lead voters to think they support the default budget.

Member Jack Landeau said his concern is the "arbitrary" cut because Social Security didn't go up. He said he does not support the cuts but sided with the majority and voted not to support budget. He said that if the board votes not to support, it is their "responsibility" to get the word to people as to why the board voted the way it did.

"Our job," said member Rae Mello Andrews, "is to make sure the people understand clearly where the school board stands and that's that they don't support the cuts made to the support staff raises by the committee."

She encouraged members to use social media sites to explain their position.

Chairman Karen Thurston, who is the school board representative to the budget committee, wanted people to know that the ongoing differences between the two boards and the administration was not personal.

"It's not us against them," she said. "We're going to talk about numbers."

Day off with pay - City loses in grievance of firefighter called to court for another town’s issue

LACONIA — City Manager Scott Meyers told the City Council this week that he was "disappointed" by the decision of an arbitrator requiring the city to pay the wages of a Laconia firefighter who spent a day in court on an issue arising from his employment with the Henniker Fire Department and having nothing to do with his employment by the city.

Firefighter Brennan Lorden was subpoenaed to appear in court on Oct. 8, 2014, a day he was scheduled to work. He requested leave, but was told by the Deputy Chief he would have to use vacation or personal time. He used personal time, but raised the issue with the union, the Laconia Professional Fire Fighters Association, which filed a grievance on his behalf. The grievance rested on a provision of the collective bargaining agreement that stipulates "no employee who may be summoned or subpoenaed shall be caused to suffer any loss of wages."

City officials found no record of an employee either requesting or receiving payment for time spent in court on a matter unrelated to their employment with the city and denied the grievance.

In her report, Diane Zaar Cochran, the arbitrator, noted that the union conceded "there is a thread of logic" in the city's position that leave for court appearances should be confined to matters arising from a person's employment with the city. But, Molan insisted that the agreement "says what it says." He also argued that although the court appearance was not related to Lorden's employment with the city, he had no choice, but was required to appear.

The city, represented by Mark Broth of Manchester, contended that it is difficult to believe that no union members have ever been subpoenaed about an issue unrelated to their employment with the city, yet there is no record of such a request in the 60 years the provision in question has been part of the collective bargaining agreement. He suggested the arbitrator find that "individuals knew better than to make such a request."

The arbitrator ruled that the provision is "absolute and unbending, plainly requiring that an employee 'shall not suffer' a wage loss if summoned or subpoenaed into court. She added that it makes no distinction between summonses and subpoenas arising from or unrelated to employment with the city. She remarked that the city's argument is "the more logical" and confessed "I was at one point tempted to deny the Union's grievance on the grounds that it could lead to absurd, nonsensical results." While upholding the grievance and restoring Lorden's personal day, the arbitrator invited the parties to "fine tune" the contract at the bargaining table.

Myers said that if a firefighter were called to court on an issue related to his employment with the city on a day he was not scheduled to work, the city would not be obliged to compensate him, since he would suffer no loss of wages. Clarifying the language of the collective bargaining agreement, he said, would be in the best interests of both the city and the union.

As of Dec. 31, the city spent $3,391.26 pursuing the case.