Whittemore Library slashes hours


NAUGATUCK — The Howard Whittemore Library announced a series of cuts will go into effect July 1 to cover a budget shortfall.

“The age of austerity in regards to how the Howard Whittemore Memorial Library is funded has finally pushed the library board of directors to make profound changes in order to remain on budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year,” Library Board of Trustees Chairman Charles Marenghi wrote in a letter to patrons and staff.

The library will be slashing hours as part of the cuts. Starting July 1, the library will be closed on Mondays and Thursdays. Currently the library is open from 12 to 6 p.m. Mondays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays. The library will also be closing at 1 p.m. on Fridays, instead of staying open until 4 p.m., starting July 1.

The cuts mean the library will be going from operating 44 hours per week to 29 hours.

In addition to reducing hours, the library is also cutting hours for technical services, which is the cataloging and preparation of books to be placed on the shelves. There will be no raises for library staff, and employees covered by the library’s health insurance will pay a premium share in addition to office co-pays and a deductible.

The library also stopped its subscriptions to the Sunday editions of the Hartford Courant, New Haven Register and the Connecticut Post.

In the letter, Marenghi said the cuts are necessary to balance the library’s 2014-15 budget. He wrote an additional $68,000 is needed in order to maintain the status quo.

The library is not a borough department, even though it receives most of its funding from the municipal budget. Rather, it is an association library.

The joint boards of mayor and burgesses and finance approved giving the library $582,000 in the 2014-15 fiscal year, which is an increase of $5,000 from this year. The increase is the first the library has received in a number of years. The budget does not include about $21,000 set aside for capital projects at the library.

The library originally requested about a $70,000 increase from the borough. The additional money would have covered increases in cost of living wage raises for employees, health insurance costs, postage fees, the annual service contract for the telephone system, and state unemployment insurance, according to library officials.

Library Director Jocelyn Miller said the library will also receive an additional $166,500 from the Whittemore Trust.

According to Miller, this isn’t enough to keep the library functioning at its current levels.

In order to maintain the current level of service, Miller said, the library had to cut money for books and couldn’t give employees raises in prior years.

“We’ve run out of things we could cut,” Miller said.

The library has also increased fees for overdue books and for faxing and copying. However, it does not plan on doing this again because it costs people who are searching for jobs, Miller said.

Miller expressed concerns about the affect cutting hours will have on residents.

“Whenever the economy is bad people use the library more than ever. They look for jobs, they are less apt to buy books and they are less apt to go to movies. It will be less convenient for people to come to the library,” Miller said. “People who are well less off are hurt most when the library is closed more.”

Marenghi wrote the reduction of hours will have an adverse impact on downtown.

“Please note that these cuts are going to impact the downtown economy. Rest assured as the hours are cut so are the amount of times families will frequent downtown. In addition, there will now be two less days for people to access the technology resources that many depend on,” Marenghi wrote.

In addition, Marenghi wrote it’s a shame the library will be closed more than it will be open.

“Many a finance board member and burgess have told us to fundraise our way out of this problem. In all honesty a small and loyal group of friends along with our staff do fundraise all the time. To expect them to raise $68,000 a year is unrealistic. Moreover, to budget on the possibility of raising funds is less than intelligent and is not fiscally responsible,” Marenghi said.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said he doesn’t like to see the library cut hours. However, he continued, the joint boards had to make a number of difficult cuts to the budgets from a variety of borough departments this year.

“We value the library,” Mezzo said. “The [joint boards] made a lot of cuts, many of them painful, to the budget.”

Miller said the library is trying to find ways to raise money. It is currently seeking corporate sponsors for its Sunday Concert series.

The 2014-15 budget is likely to go to a referendum after petitions to do were recently submitted. Miller is fearful that if the budget goes to a referendum and is voted down, the library will be among the first targeted for cuts.

“People say they want the library supported but want lower taxes. It’s probably not possible to have both those things,” Miller said. “When the people in charge of money see we truly needed it, maybe they will find a way to keep that extra $5,000 in budget.”