North Adams library trustees push for more city funding

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NORTH ADAMS >> As the North Adams Public Library prepares its budget for the upcoming year, its trustees are pushing the director to ask for more funding.

Library director Mindy Hackner introduced a nearly level-funded budget proposal this week that would put the city on the hook for about $308,000 — the minimum municipal appropriation the state requires for the library to qualify for additional funding.

In order to qualify for state funding, state law mandates that a city appropriate at least 2.5 percent more every year than the average appropriation over the past three years. For the first time in eight years, the current budget just barely met that standard. The City Council is expected to tackle the fiscal 2017 budget in the coming months.

Hackner's initial proposal for $308,000 in city funding would raise the wages of pages to $11 an hour and account for other staffing changes in the wake of the imminent retirement of Robin Martin, the assistant director and adult reference services librarian Robin Martin's imminent retirement. The Children's Librarian position would be cut from full-time to 33 ½ hours per week and a part-time employee hours on Saturday would be cut.

"The crisis is that we're down one position," Hackner said. "I'm taking all of Robin's salary and basically redistributing it, but I'm not getting the physical body that was Robin."

After hearing Hackner outline the proposal, the library's trustees pushed her to aim higher.

"I think the question is, 'Why not ask for more?' " asked Trustee Joan Owczarski.

If the library's five employees use all of the vacation, personal and sick time they are entitled to, it adds up to half the library's open hours, Hacker said.

"The problem is I don't have enough bodies to plug into the spots, so that if one person is out and then someone has an emergency or someone is sick, we are down to a point where we can't operate unless we have volunteers," Hackner said.

The trustees meeting nearly had to be canceled due to a staff shortage.

"Those should be extreme exceptions, not standard operating," Trustee Richard Remsberg said.

Hackner said she would rework the budget and submit something higher.

"I'm not used to asking for more, and this is bare bones," Hackner said. "To tell you the truth, I'm a little bit nervous about how it's going to work because I sense a lot of pushback."

Hackner said Mayor Richard Alcombright's administration recently told her not to hire a much-needed 15 hour per week part-time employee because that position may not be budgeted for next year.

"There's a lot at stake here," she said. "One suggestion that came up was that we close an additional day out of the week."

Remsberg suggested that the library increase efforts to raise money on its own and increase its political profile within the city.

Library attendance numbers are down from years past, but trustees and the director agreed that is likely due to the lack of resources.

"This has been one of my biggest fears for this library, is that it's being slowly strangled," Hackner said. "It's a chicken or the egg type of thing."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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