Town officials defend a 39-percent reduction in Vernon library budget

VERNON — In the months leading up to our Town Meeting, the Vernon Selectboard worked to finalize a budget that reflects the needs of local residents while taking into account their ability to pay for services.

As a result, the board asked each town department to suggest at least 6 percent in cuts to next year's bottom line. During review, the board compared each department to towns of similar size in the state of Vermont.

When it came to the Vernon Free Library, the difference in town contributions to local libraries serving similar populations was apparent.

In response, the Selectboard agreed to recommend a library budget with a 39-percent reduction.

“We compared each department to their counterparts in Guilford, Dummerston and Westford, Vermont, towns with similar population size to Vernon and similar library hours of operation,” says Josh Unruh, Selectboard member.

“Westford's budget was about 39 percent lower than Vernon, and Guilford was about 74 percent lower. We felt it was necessary to bring tax spending in line with other towns our size.”

Unruh also mentioned the difference in salaries, with Vernon coming in double that of Westford and 34 more employee hours per week for the same hours of operation.

All three comparison towns included utilities or rent in their budgets as well.

“It's important residents understand that those expenses are not included in the Vernon Library budget, but are absorbed by taxpayers through expenses of the Town Office building.”

Board member Steve Skibniowsky noted the importance of volunteer participation and fundraising in library support.

“We all appreciate the library and support their contribution to the residents of Vernon; however, the expense of this resource is becoming burdensome on residents struggling to make ends meet.”

He suggests mobilizing local support for the organization. “If residents truly want to preserve the library at its current level of funding, there are many ways to raise money without burdening every taxpayer.”

Emily Vergobbe echoed support for the library and suggested the use of volunteers to reduce salary costs in the library.

“The expense of salaried employees is not consistent with other towns considering the number of hours the library is open,” said Vergobbe. “I am proud of the Vernon Free Library, and I enjoy having the resource in our town; however, not everyone can afford to support it, and as elected officials we need to take that into consideration.”

The Vernon Free Library appears on the Town Meeting warning in articles 6, 7, 8, and 9.

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