Against more cuts to Pequot Library funding

To the Editor:

My name is Doug Fried, 1059 Pequot Ave., in Southport, where my wife, son, and I have resided for the past 23 years. During those 23 years, our taxes have increased by more than 450% — a staggering compounded rate of 7% per year, in spite of no major improvements to our residence.

I attended the hearing last week of the Boards of Finance and Selectmen, where passing reference was made by one of the Board of Finance members to the escalation of costs in our area — seemingly disproportionate to the rest of the town. But steady increases have been a burden for all of the town. So I support your efforts to contain future escalation.

Still, I am prompted to raise my strong concerns about proposed funding cuts for the Pequot Library, a vital community resource and a jewel, not just for Southport, but for the whole town as well. These proposed cuts do not make sense to me either on need, fairness, nor value to the town.

First, consider need and fairness. The library has been in belt-tightening mode for the past four years. Staffing levels have been cut, hours of operation have been cut, needed repairs and capital improvements have been deferred.

Pequot Library functions on one level as a third branch of the Fairfield Library system. Yet, since 2008, the town’s support of that library has declined by nearly 10% in nominal terms in spite of overall increases in spending by the town probably in excess of 20%. The proposed cut for this year — $25,000 — would be another 7% reduction, even in spite of a 2.6% increase in overall spending proposed for the town. How does that make sense?

This again is for an institution, which as noted before, apparently is situated in a community that has more than contributed a fair share of revenue for the town — not that it in any way exclusively serves Southport.

The library has utility bills to pay, which escalate each year. It has staff to pay, whose hours have already been cut and whose hourly rates are squeezed by tight funding. Books and other materials have rising sticker prices. Pequot’s major fund-raisers are its book sales. But revenues from the book sales are unfortunately threatened by growing use of eBooks.

Major kudos should be given to the executive director of the library, Martha Lord, an experienced manager with a terrific track record in managing nonprofits. We are lucky to have her. But in spite of previous work with the Big Apple Circus, she is not a magician, and has had already to make tough cuts and defer plans for enhancing the services which the library provides.

So let’s talk about the value of the library to the town. This is a library, which for all practical purposes, functions as a third branch for the town. It is free for all in town to use and through its inter-library loans provides full access to all of the lending resources in the town’s library system. The town’s contribution for funding has been $350,000 per year — all inclusive. No additional hidden costs of any overhead allocated elsewhere in the town budget. I challenge you to find any branch library at that cost.

But the library also provides a rich variety of cultural programs — highly regarded concert series, art displays, book talks and a phenomenally popular set of children’s programs and workshops. For those of you who haven’t been there, it’s a wonderful place to curl up with a book and simply read. Again it is open to all.

The importance of the library is manifested in the overwhelming enthusiasm of its volunteers. For the book sale alone, there are nearly 200 who contribute each year to the success of its renowned summer sale, including at least a dozen intrepid year-round volunteers who would be considered full-time employees if they were paid.

There are dozens of others who enable the success of the library’s other cultural programs. It provides a wonderful means for providing a true sense of community while enriching our souls through its programs. The importance of the library to the town is exhibited by the overwhelming support of its volunteers.

At the meeting of the Boards of Selectmen and Finance last week, Martha Lord and the board’s chair, Bill Russell were asked what cuts would need to be made at library if a 7%, or $25,000 cut, were made to the support provided by the town. They didn’t provide a definitive answer — probably because they have been working so hard year round to avoid dramatic cuts already based upon constant funding.

Sure there are ways to manage with a 7% cut in funding, as it would be for any of the town’s recipients of funding, including essential services such as fire, police and education, if it were absolutely necessary.

I would rather that the board members have asked what could Pequot do with additional rather than less, perhaps just enough to put it on a par of support with all other services for the past six (or more) years.

Enhanced programs utilizing the library’s preeminent collection of American history (currently stored off-site at Yale), more children’s programs and festivals, such as its Fourth of July bike parade or camping on its great lawn, more programs like the Christmas caroling and sleigh rides, and of course, more lectures and concerts.

I realize that belt-tightening is in order, but Pequot’s belt is already quite constricting. I’d ask that you consider a 2% increase from current funding levels (in line with the overall budget increase), not the 7% cut which you have put on the table, which I should note accounts for less than 1/100% of the town budget. Surely there must be a more efficient place to find such savings, if they are necessary.

Again, it is a matter of need, fairness and bang for the buck or value to the town.

 

Douglas Fried

Southport

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