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Library director feels ‘targeted’ by budget cuts

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PEPPERELL — Saved from closure by last year’s budget override referendum that also kept the Senior Center and Community Center open, Lawrence Library may lose its accreditation if a Finance Committee recommendation to chop its budget five percent next year passes muster.

Two weeks ago, the finance committee doubled the 2.5-percent cut that selectmen had heard about, surprising both selectmen and Library Director Debra Spratt.

Discussion was not an agenda item for selectmen on Monday, March 29. Spratt said she will ask for the library budget to be on a future agenda but asked selectmen to listen to her plea for help because she thought they were the only ones who could help, and the May Town Meeting is fast approaching.

Selectmen agreed as long as discussion remained at a non-committal high level.

Spratt said the recommended $22,000 cutback is the highest of any department. The next highest cut is the 1 percent, or $15,000, chop in the $1.5 million police budget, which is far greater than the library’s less-than $400,000 cost. The Senior Center budget was trimmed 2.5 percent.

It seems incongruous, she added, since she’s asking Town Meeting to transfer $5,700 collected from book fines from the general fund to the library account in order to augment its budget to meet accreditation requirements. Some $3,200 of that sum would be returned to the town, Spratt said.

A waiver of accreditation requirements can be sought but there is no guarantee. It is unnecessary given the book fine solution, she said.

“I distinctly remember last year asking how the library would be funded this year. I look at this (recommendation) as garbage. I’m very disappointed,” Spratt said.

Chairman Joseph Sergi said residents should be mindful that the Police Department has lost two officers — Lt. David Scott has been promoted to chief but his old job won’t be filled — and that state revenue is down $200 million, which will cut aid receipts.

“Pepperell still has a $550,000 deficit (for next year) which will be funded by other non tax-base mechanisms,” he added. “This doesn’t mean the hard work that has been done will go away.”

Sergi said that while selectmen moved forward with the override effort last year, this budget season the board will focus on departmental cuts.

“I feel targeted,” Spratt said. “I was not informed that the numbers would be what they are.

An audience member pointed out committee members had said the library’s budget had not been cut during last year’s override ramp up.

“A library is far more than a building with books inside. It is the cornerstone of our society and who we are as a people,” said Tony Saboliauskas.

“I agree, but the folks of Pepperell spoke for Pepperell with the override. The issue is town services overall,” Sergi said. “There’s been a lot of talk about schools and we must speak to both the municipality and schools as we go forward.”

Selectman Patrick McNabb said the last cutback he had heard for the library was 2.5 percent. He disagreed the library had been targeted and opted to wait to speak to the finance committee.

“We’re still in limbo with union (contracts),” Spratt said. “Last year they gave everything to the town. They’re losing a position, losing work time each week and the library is closed three more hours per week.

“You can play a lot of games with statistics. I’m looking at what Pepperell is saying it wants and instead, we’re going backwards on top of going backwards,” Spratt said.

Selectmen will address budget issues at their April 5 meeting and invited the finance committee to attend.

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