Our Opinion: Lenox looks to turn the page

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An independent operation since 1856, the Lenox Library could soon come under the control of Town Hall ("Select Board backs town takeover of library operations," October 10). With the Select Board's unanimous approval of the plan now secured, voters will have the final say at a special town meeting early next month. The date has not yet been set.

We urge voters to support the proposal, which would secure the library's funding stream, thereby safeguarding its venerated role as the town's intellectual, social, cultural, and historical hub. "There are items in the association's budget that we're absorbing that we can better manage," Select Board Chairman David Roche explained, adding that the library association's trustees would no longer "be worried about trying to raise additional money to pay the electric bill, to pay the staff and some of the other bills."

The truth is, all signs seemed pointed in this direction for years. While the library has been operated and primarily funded by the association since its founding, the town, since 1991, has appropriated about 46 percent of the library's annual budget. Moreover, the town has owned the building itself since 2007, when voters overwhelmingly supported a bailout following cost overruns of a massive renovation. The Greek Revival building, with its columns and elegant cupola, is a Main Street icon listed on the National Historic Register.

Under a memorandum of understanding between the Select Board and the Lenox Library Association's board of trustees, the association would be relieved of its managerial functions. The library's operations, budget and non-development staff would be transferred to Town Hall, thus making the library a department like any other town department. A key difference would be that the association would still be required to raise $132,000 annually as a contribution to the library budget. The town would fund $331,000. Under the proposal, the town's annual appropriations would rise by $62,000 from the current level. Additional association fundraising would be geared toward developing new programming and for capital improvements. What would be the cost to taxpayers? Lee-Lenox Chief Administrative Officer Christopher Ketchen says the owner of an average-priced single-family home valued at $400,000 would see a $20 annual property tax increase.

By falling under the governance of the town, the Lenox Library seems to have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The townspeople have proven themselves loyal partners in its mission. Furthermore, the library would join the 85 percent of libraries statewide that are similarly municipally operated. Yes, it's time to open this new chapter in the library's storied history.

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