Shirley library director urges voters to pass debt exclusion


By Katina Caraganis


SHIRLEY — Hazen Memorial Library Director Debra Roy warned May 25 that if voters do not pass a debt exclusion and the library’s budget is cut by $60,000, it could have a severe impact on how the library does business.

Roy pointed out that $60,000 is almost one-third of her $190,000 budget, and if that amount is cut, the library will likely lose its certification through the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

A debt exclusion raises taxes only for the life of the debt that a town is incurring, while an override — which the town was previously considering — would raise the tax rate permanently.

The state requires municipalities to fund their libraries according to a formula called the Municipal Appropriation Requirement, or MAR, or risk the library losing its certification.

If decertified, the library would lose $12,000 in state aid and would not be able to apply for any state grants, Roy said.

The MAR formula, by which the town sets the library’s annual budget, first takes the town’s appropriation for the three previous years, then averages it and multiplies that number by 2.5 percent. The 2.5 percent added to the three-year average figure determines the library’s budget for the coming fiscal year.

Currently, the library’s budget is $189,102. It is expected to be $190,785 in fiscal 2012 and $193,624 in fiscal 2013.

“That is what our MAR has to be from the town,” Roy said. “If it’s not, we have to apply for a waiver because we aren’t meeting (the municipal appropriation) requirement.”

If the state believes the library’s budget is cut disproportionately in comparison to other town departments, the Board of Library Commissioners will ask Roy, a municipal employee, a member of the Finance Committee and a member of the library trustees to go before them in Boston to explain why the cut was made.

Roy said if she has to cut $60,000 from the budget, she would prefer to reduce the number of hours the library is open per week, from 36 to 25, rather than let go any of its nine employees.

Other consequences might be allowing only Shirley residents to borrow items, and the inter-library loan process might disappear, she said.

The library serves about 1,100 patrons a month, she said.

“It’s a really long haul once you’ve been decertified,” Roy explained. “You have to reapply to be considered for certification again, and you have to show you’ve been able to meet the requirements of the minimum standard.

“For a full year, I won’t be able to show I’m meeting the minimum standards,” she said. “Maybe the next year we’ll get the amount of MAR that I need. If you’re decertified one year, it really means that you’re decertified for two years.”

This isn’t the first time the library’s funding has been on the chopping block, she said, noting that voters approved overrides in fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2010 that restored cut funding.

“This town does support its library, but $60,000 is asking a lot,” she acknowledged.

Selectman Dave Swain said the cuts to the library are necessary.

“It’s nothing we want, but unfortunately, we have to cut money from various areas,” he said. “The library is a place that needs to be cut. They have not had cuts, and that’s not fair to other departments in the town.”

The library in Fitchburg lost its certification in 2009 after its funding was cut in fiscal 2008. It is among 10 libraries in the state without certification.