Library could see big cuts

Selectboard seeks to reduce spending by 38 percent

VERNON — Vernon Free Library Director Kris Berberian is worried about what will happen at Town Meeting this year.

If the Selectboard gets its way and townspeople vote “yes” on Article 5, to appropriate $70,000 to the library for its total Fiscal Year 2018 budget, either she or her assistant, Jean Carr, “will lose our job,” Berberian said.

When planning began for the FY18 budget, the Selectboard demanded all municipal department heads cut 6 percent from their budgets.

But the Selectboard decided that wasn't enough for the library.

At the Dec. 19 regular Selectboard meeting, Board members discussed the library's budget, comparing it with library budgets of similarly sized towns. Board members also suggested the Vernon Free Library use volunteer labor to operate the facility.

Board member Josh Unruh proposed setting the library's FY17 budget at $65,000, which represents a reduction of approximately $50,000 from the current year's budget. Unruh withdrew his motion after Board member Emily Vergobbe suggested changing the budget to $70,000. Unruh made the updated motion, which passed 4-1, with Sandra Harris abstaining.

The Selectboard is authorized to set the library's budget. From there, the library's Board of Trustees spends the budgeted money according to the director's discretion.

Berberian, who has directed the Vernon Free Library for 10 years, said the net effect of the Selectboard cutting the budget by 38 percent is that it will cut library wages in half. She noted that the library's expenses, minus salaries, are $36,000.

In response to the Selectboard's adding the agenda item to the Town Meeting warning, Berberian drew up a petition asking voters to “raise and appropriate $39,900 in addition to the proposed $70,000 for the administration of the Vernon Free Library."

In order to get placed on the Town Meeting warning, the petition needed 91 signatures; it got 125. The item appears as Article 6.

But, Berberian isn't resting easy with that victory.

“We needed to have those signatures, and we need to have those people come to Town Meeting to support the library,” she said.

Berberian is planning to send postcards to all of the people who signed the petition, urging them to show up. “Their voices need to be heard,” she said.

When asked why she thinks the Selectboard doesn't support the library, Berberian had a few answers.

“[They're] in panic mode with Vermont Yankee closing,” she said. “We've been living high on the hog for the last 40 years.”

With Entergy shuttering the nuclear power plant, townspeople are now responsible for the property taxes that VY had provided for so many years.

“This town has never had to raise money,” she said.

Berberian also pointed out that “none of the Selectboard members use the library."

“I think their perception of what we do here is, we sit behind a desk and we check books out,” Berberian said, adding, “they don't know about our services."

According to information provided by a pamphlet, “Programs - Activities - Services,” published by the library, in 2016 an average of 136 people per week visited the facility, and the library circulated 11,005 items.

Thirty percent of Vernon residents are active members, and they have access to 17,487 items in the collection - such as books, magazines, newspapers, audio books, and DVDs - plus selections available through inter-library loans.

The library offers reading programs for children, teenagers, and adults, and offers preschool story time four times each month.

Berberian mentioned the library's help at tax time. With the IRS and the state tax department no longer printing income tax forms, some of her patrons, especially the elderly, show up at the library “in a panic,” she said. Berberian and her staff know how to navigate the tax departments' websites and have printed out instructions and forms for patrons.

“We have to know how to operate several different electronic devices that people bring in” to download e-books, she said. “People bring in laptops, and they don't know what to do with them,” Berberian said. She and her staff often help the confused patrons.

“We offer faxing, scanning, copying, a cribbage club, knitting instruction,” Berberian said.

“You can't rely on volunteers to run this library,” Berberian said. With last year's budget cuts, the library will lose its two part-time workers at the end of FY17.

“Jean and I tried running the library by ourselves” right after VY closed, Berberian said. “It was awful."

If Article 5 passes and Article 6 doesn't, Berberian said the library's hours will be cut significantly, and she and Carr will likely lose their benefits because they won't have enough work hours to qualify for them. This might mean they would have to look for jobs elsewhere. “I'm tired of battling,” she said.

“If the Selectboard gets its way, it could be the end of the library,” Berberian said.

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