Library seeks budget increase
With increasing library use, a building that’s no longer brand-new, and skyrocketing health insurance costs, the library’s leadership is looking for a little more help from the town.
The library is proposing a nearly $3 million budget, with more than $2 million of that coming from the town — an increase of 3.6 percent over the town’s current year contribution to the library.
The library is a quasi-public institution — it has an endowment and a private board of directors, but the town provides the bulk of its budget and gets to appoint some library board members. Among the library’s sources of income, other than the town, are: its annual appeal; events; passport processing; and trust income.
The library’s $2.9 million budget request represents an overall increase of about $111,000, or 3.9 percent, over the current 2018-19 budget.
Back when the library board was seeking support for a $20 million expansion project, completed in 2014, an agreement was reached in which the town’s annual support would grow at the same rate as other town departments — excluding the schools.
“The agreement with the library was the library would stay with the same percentage increase as the town,” said Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark. “We’re coming in at zero (this year).”
“It’s different this year,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi agreed.
Before the town’s spending goal was knocked to a zero increase in recognition of many taxpayers being hit with a loss of deductions on their federal income taxes, the town’s annual budget work was guided a 2.5 percent spending increase cap set for municipalities by the state legislature.
The library had budgeted with this in mind — and still had exceeded it.
“We are requesting a town appropriation increase of 3.6 percent,” Library Board chairman Gary Rapp wrote to the selectmen. “The library has worked very hard to keep our operational expenses at a minimum. We began this budget request with a 2.5 percent increase in the town contribution, yet we find that our biggest challenge continues to be increases in the cost of health care benefits.”
Library staff share in town employees’ health insurance, which is projected to go up significantly. “...We have been advised to include a projected 15 percent increase in health care costs,” Rapp wrote. The difference between a 2.5 percent and a 15 percent health benefits increase is “an additional $22,987.”
He touted the library’s popularity, saying 94 percent of Ridgefield households have a library card and more than 272,646 patrons visited the library on the 335 days it was open — 814 visits a day.
The library budget lists statistics showing more library use in the last year: 22,700 downloads of digital e-books, audiobooks and magazines — a 13.8 percent increase; 107,900 free wireless sessions in the library — up 15.3 percent; more than 36,800 people attending library programs — up 12.1 percent.
Library Director Brenda McKinley said that while printed book borrowing was “down slightly” there had been a 13 percent increase in downloaded book circulation.
“We have folks who are using it and loving it,” she said. “But we’re limiting it to four per month, per patron.”
Up on the roof
Meanwhile, a rooftop patio that’s a pleasant grace note in the library’s plans will be financed by a state grant and a private donor.
The roof patio plans do not show in the library’s budget or capital budget. It was brought up by Marconi, who’d seen it mentioned in library board minutes.
McKinley said the patio — part of the original plans for the building — would be on the Dayton Program Room’s roof.
“We were successful in getting a state grant and our generous local matching donor,” McKinley said. The grant is $40,000, matched with $40,000, allowing $80,000 for the project.
The state grant is approved, but the library can’t get started until the state bond commission meets and releases the money. The work involved is minor, and should take only a few weeks, McKinley said. She had been hoping to get it done this spring, but with bonding commission meetings recently postponed is now thinking sometime this year.
The patio area will be wheelchair accessible and have outlets providing electricity.