RFPL Trustees vote to level-fund library budget for FY 2015

BELLOWS FALLS — In a 5-3 vote, the Rockingham Free Public Library Board of Trustees last week passed a level-funded budget for fiscal year 2015 that deadlocked its own finance committee.

That budget does not include a cost-of-living wage increase proposed by staff.

If the budget is approved by the Selectboard, the town of Rockingham will be asked to raise $320,806 in taxes at the Annual Town Meeting in March.

At the previous trustees meeting, the two-person finance committee could not find agreement on the RFPL's budget.

Pat Fowler, one of the two members, told the board that she and the other committee member, Deb Wright, “can't agree,” and asked to have a third person put on the committee to break the stalemate.

Chair Jan Mitchell-Love refused, telling the board she was considering appointing an “expert from the community” to the committee instead.

The library's bylaws state that the finance, book, and building committees must each have three board members appointed by the chair. Fowler was appointed to replace Steve Fuller, who resigned in June.

No one has been appointed to fill the seat vacated by David Buckley in August, who resigned following the dismissal of the library director.

When questioned by The Commons why only one of the two seats left vacant by the resignations of two previous finance committee members in June and August had not been filled, Mitchell-Love said that she didn't see any point with elections coming up in March.

At the Jan. 3 meeting, trustee Elayne Clift asked the chair to appoint board member Ray Massucco to the board, citing his experience and stated interest.

But Mitchell-Love replied to The Commons and told the board Friday that there would be no point in putting Massucco on the Finance Committee, as he “wouldn't be here after March.”

Massucco told The Commons that he understood the chair's reluctance to appoint a potential lame duck, but said that he does not know where the chair got the idea that he was not running again in the March elections.

He said he plans to file his petition for the two municipal seats that he currently holds. He also serves as town agent.

Massucco also said that he had exchanged email with Mitchell-Love on Nov. 22, expressing his interest in filling the vacant committee seat.

Mitchell-Love replied to his email, asking for his qualifications.

Massucco serves on the revenue enhancement committee of the Vermont Bar Foundation, which raises millions to fund Legal Aid, the Vermont Volunteer Lawyer Project, Access to Justice, and a dozen or more low income projects.

He informed Mitchell-Love that he also has been administering a private medical school scholarship fund for 40 years, and is solely responsible for its investments. He informed her his undergraduate degree is in economics.

Combining occasional forensic accounting and income/expense analysis in his business that he has done for 40 years, with his business background developing budgets for the Vermont Festivals, Massucco felt he qualified for a seat on the committee.

Staff salaries and legal fees

At a Friends of the Library holiday raffle and unofficial celebration of the Carnegie library's reopening in December, former Director Célina Houlné expressed great appreciation for the work of the staff and the extra workload the renovations incurred for everyone.

The year was a stressful and tumultuous one for members of the library staff, who have been dealing with renovations for almost three years, and the bankruptcy of Baybutt, the project contractor, earlier in 2013, plus two contentious moves, and the loss of their director.

Following Houlne's dismissal, Historical Collections Librarian Emily Zervas and Youth Librarian Sam Maskell had been appointed to take up these slack and oversee the library, but they refused the titles of “director” or “interim director.”

The search for a new library director has begun, with a job posting on the Vermont Library Association's website.

Clift stated that she could not support a budget that did not include a salary increase that the staff has not seen in three years, saying that inflation is already decreasing their remuneration steadily each year.

Clift's husband, Arnold Clift, pointed out that there is a $67,000 surplus from the fiscal year 2013 salary and benefits budget, saying the library could easily cover these salary increases (totaling approximately $4,000).

Finance committee member and vice-chair Deb Wright cited “taxpayers” as the reason for her voting against salary increases for library staff.

There are $53,000 in liquid assets in a CD in the bank should a budget deficit occur at the end of FY15.

Elayne Clift maintained that the renovation cost overrun should not be borne by the staff.

The library is budgeting for legal costs in a new line item.

At present, another trustee pointed out, there are legal bills from town lawyer Steven Ankuda totaling in FY13 $6,562.50, and Houlné and her counsel have publicly stated their intent to seek legal recourse over her dismissal.

The FY15 budget calls for $500.

In the end, Fowler said she compromised on her objections to the budget, which allowed the staff salaries line item to come before the board in an amended version at $193,543, instead of the proposed $201,300 the staff had brought to the board, reflecting the cost-of-living increase.

The budget was passed 5–3 and will go before the Selectboard to be approved for the Annual Town Meeting warrant.

If approved, the town will then be asked if it wants the rest of the level funded budget of $320,806, to be raised by taxes, at the town meeting in March.

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