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Staff Writer

PEPPERELL — Lawrence Library Director Deborah Spratt has been present at every Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen meeting scheduled to discuss the 2010 budget, and for good reason.

Some of the hours worked by library union workers and some of the overall budget have been on the potential hit list since deficit-battling budget discussions began several weeks ago.

Its union is one of three — along with the police superior officers and patrolmen — that were asked to freeze step raises next year. Unlike the other two, the library union has asked the town boards for a dollar “number” so that it can make adjustments to reach a compromise that lessens the threat of hourly wage cuts or closure.

At a selectmen’s meeting two weeks ago, Spratt, who is not in a union, said her staff has asked for a “number” to shoot at because the 2010 level-funded budget that all departments were told to reach includes wages.

If wages are frozen, the wage money already included in the 2010 level-funded budget would effectively be removed, which opens the potential for a second tier of cutbacks — work hours and education. Step raises are already gone.

Spratt said more important is the potential loss of accreditation.

“Basically, if I maintain work hours I can maintain the budget,” Spratt told selectmen, “If I lose funding plus work hours I’ll lose accreditation. We need to maintain two of the three. We’re open 43 hours now. We shouldn’t go below 41.”

That means the $436,000 library budget is only $4,000 above accreditation-loss level. A wage freeze would drop it below minimum. Loss of accreditation means loss of $16,000 in state reimbursement, the ability to make interlibrary loans, and library cards would be good only in Pepperell.

“We need clarity (in numbers),” Spratt said. “Sixty-five percent of Pepperell has library cards where its about 5 percent to 10 percent in other towns. I appreciate the seat you’re in, but I wouldn’t be doing my job (if I didn’t argue). We lend 1,100 items per four-and-a-half day week and 19,000 per month.”

Last week, the Finance Committee discussed what might have to be initiated, should budget overrides fail at town meeting. The FinCom voted 4-2 to recommend $22,000 be cut from the library budget which, if approved, would spell the loss of accreditation.

Debate on the vote began with discussion of reducing library work hours in order to save $14,208.

“Nothing meant by it,” FinCom Chairman Diane Gaspar said, “But a non-certified library is not the worst thing (and) you won’t be alone. It’s easier if we give you a dollar figure instead of firing people.”

Spratt said the $22,000 cut would probably mean Saturday closure and loss of 18 hours of employee time.

“We’ve already lost cleaning, computer money and we will lose pages. I’ll figure it out,” Spratt said. “Frankly, I think we need to be open 58 hours,” adding, “(The state) allows a drop in hours from May 30 through Labor Day.”

Gaspar suggested the library budget lose the dollar equivalent of one staff position (about $27,000), to which Spratt said the union prefers to keep jobs.

“I can afford to lose only $4,210 in the budget,” she reiterated. “I can make a case for a waiver with a reasonable drop in the budget but this may be way beyond.”