Advocacy efforts on behalf of the Public Library of New London have started up in response to a legal opinion that funds for the library could be withheld in order to close a budget gap.
Law Director Jeffrey Londregan said in a recent memo that the mayor has the authority to withhold funding for certain discretionary line items, including municipal contributions to the library and non-profit organizations, in order to avoid a deficit. At the last estimate, New London has a in the current budget due to overspending and revenue shortfalls.
Finance Director Jeff Smith has said the city could realize up to $1.7 million in savings in the current fiscal year through methods such as finding additional savings in some departments and not issuing bonds before the end of the fiscal year on June 30. However, Smith said $200,000 of this projection would come from cuts to non-profit contributions and that this option should only be taken as a “last resort.”
Let Patch save you time. Get great local stories like this delivered right to your inbox or smartphone every day with our free newsletter. Simple, fast sign-up here.
Mayor Daryl Finizio said he agreed that the city should strive to retain its non-profit contributions and was glad to see residents sharing their concerns. He said he spoke with the library and other non-profits so they could prepare a contingency plan in case of unexpected budget issues going into the fourth quarter of the 2013 fiscal year.
“At this point I’m confident we will be able to make all those fourth quarter payments,” said Finizio.
“New London & I [heart] the Public Library of New London”
On the article regarding Londregan’s opinion, New London resident Adriane Vawter posted a comment saying there would be a rally in support of the library last Friday at Parade Plaza. Vawter has started a petition two days later on the website Change.org, asking Finizio and City Council President Michael Passero to “maintain funding to the New London Public Library at its current levels without any cuts or reallocation to other areas of the city budget in recognition of the library being a center of service vital to our community.”
Since the rally, several flyers have also appeared around the city declaring “New London & I [heart] the Public Library of New London.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Vawter’s petition had attracted 28 signatures. Those signing the petition included both current and former residents.
“As a teenager, the library was one of the only safe and productive environments available to me,” wrote Katherine Barajas, who gave her current residence as Gila Bend, Ariz. “I'm sure that is the same for many kids in New London today.”
Vawter says another Parade Plaza rally will be held at noon on Saturday.
State of funding
Suzanne Maryeski, the library's director, said she was appreciative both of the advocacy efforts and Finizio’s visit regarding the budget. She said library employees have not been contributing to the advocacy efforts.
“It’s not coming from us at all because it wouldn’t be right,” said Maryeski. “It’s a decision the mayor has to make based on the budget realities.”
The library receives approximately $600,000—about 86 percent of its operating budget—in municipal funding in four quarterly payments. The library is also supported by other sources of funding including donations, the James P. and Mary E. Shea perpetual fund, and grants. Maryeski said some of the grants can only be used for certain items and cannot support operational areas such as utility bills or salaries.
Maryeski also said New London’s funding as a proportion of the municipal budget is one of the lowest in the state. She said the city spends about .78 percent of its annual budget on the library, while regional proportions range from .94 percent in Norwich to 1.68 percent in Waterford.
Maryeski said the library has been instrumental in assisting patrons with areas such as job searches, computer skills, and tax preparation. She said that in January, library staff helped 283 people look for jobs and assisted 566 people with computer technology.
“We’re not doing anything but continuing to do our job as well as we can, and we really do make a difference in people’s lives,” said Maryeski.
Finizio said he thinks it is unlikely that library and other non-profit funding will be threatened for the fourth quarter. However, he said contractual and legal obligations in the budget leave few areas to cut if there are unexpected expenses or revenue shortfalls in the coming months that cannot be covered by other savings or cuts.
“If this happens and the deficit increases, the only thing left in the budget to cut are these fourth quarter subsidy payments,” he said.
Finizio said he and Smith will make recommendations based on budget projections in April and that all fourth quarter payments will be made if the budget is stable. He disagreed with the assertion on Vawter's petition that the library is "in immediate danger of closing its doors," saying no funding has been cut to the library this fiscal year and that any fourth quarter reductions would not necessarily cut the entire quarterly payment to the library.
Maryeski said the library’s board of directors would have to determine how to operate if funds are cut and that the board has developed some scenarios based on this possibility.