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Attempts to up library funding fail

By Erik Eisele
CONWAY — The library trustees twice tried at Monday's deliberative meeting to reinstate cuts made to the library budget, but even reduced requests failed to gain the support of the voters.
Trustee Sarah Charles proposed adding $12,412 back into the budget during the meeting, which was held at Kennett High's Loynd Auditorium, much less than the $18,712 the selectmen took out in December. The reduced increase wouldn't allow the trustees to increase library hours, she said, and they wouldn't hire a new director as soon as they would like, but it would make it possible to fill the director position before summer. The $12,412 "would allow us to hire a new director in May," she said.
"I think it's excessive," Bob Barriault said in response to the request. According to his calculations, he said, a $9,000 increase seems more reasonable.
Trustee Ted Sares, who was a budget committee member before he resigned from the committee in November, said the library needs to hire a new director as soon as possible. "There's been a lot of stress on the librarians," he said.
But Bill Marvel, a sitting budget committee member who is running to become a library trustee, raised an objection to the possibility the current board might have a hand in hiring a new director. He wouldn't want that process to go forward, he said, while the board is "in the clutches of the current chairman," referring to Linda Fox Phillips.
Sares countered by calling Marvel's "trustee-bashing" "legendary." This sort of discussion isn't at helpful, he said.
Charles, meanwhile, took a more conciliatory tone. "We are working very hard to heal what has happened," she said, referring to a botched restructuring last fall that led to the resignation of the library director. The trustees are working to make their process more transparent, she said, but this is about the future, not the past. Among the staff, she said, "there really is dire expression for needing a new director."
"They really want a director as soon as possible," she said, and for that to happen they need the money restored.
"I believe the cuts were made as punishment," budget committee member Syndi White said, "not with logic."
The debate seemed poised to heat up, but from the audience former selectman Larry Martin shouted : "Move the question Mr. Moderator. We've beat this to death."
Seven residents had requested a ballot vote, so the next few minutes were devoted to casting and counting votes. The proposed $12,412 increase failed, 65-44.
"I declare the motion defeated," Steele said.
That was not, however, the end of discussion about the library budget: Sares moved for a $9,000 increase. "September was a bad month for all concerned with the library," he said, referring to when the news of the planned restructuring broke. Today, however, he said, the library "was and is on a very positive path."
Those sentiments were not shared by everyone, however. "Please do not trust these trustees," Conway resident Roger Landry urged.
The trustees tried to combat such sentiments, particularly when it came to discussion of hiring the new library director.
"The current trustees will not do the hiring," Sares said. "That is a fact."
Marvel, however, was not convinced. The trustees are always looking for more money, he said. "I think the public can be forgiven for being skeptical." He raised questions about whether the severance package the trustees agreed to with the former director was even legal.
"What we did was under legal advice," Sares said.
When the vote was finally taken, again by secret ballot, the proposed $9,000 increase also failed, 65-46.
"My sense is I think the people have spoken," Steele said.
The failed effort means the selectmen's recommendation of a proposed 2013 library budget of $465,115 stands, meaning the trustees will most likely have the same amount to spend in 2013 as they had in 2012. The vote also ends months of back and forth between the trustees and their critics, with the trustees failing to get what they hoped. Sares seemed to recognize that fact after the second vote and a subsequent motion to restrict reconsideration of the issue. "We concede," he said, then sat down.
Final vote on the budget and all warrant articles will be April 9.
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