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Bixby seeking more town funds

VERGENNES — For the first time since 2002, the trustees of the Bixby Memorial Free Library have decided to raise the Vergennes library’s funding requests from the five communities it serves.
In 2002 the Bixby — at that time funded far less by its service area than other Vermont libraries — asked for and received a significant increase in the towns’ support, to a total of $53,604 a year.
Since then, the Bixby’s board has not sought more even though its operating expenses rose about 3 percent a year, according to treasurer Donna Corcoran.
But when the stock market tanked in 2008, Corcoran said the library’s finances — and especially its endowment — quickly felt the strain.
In 2002, that endowment stood at about $450,000. Between then and two years ago, Corcoran said the board could safely withdraw up to $48,000 a year without dipping into its principal.
Now the value of the endowment has dropped to about $350,000, and the library has had to use its principal just to meet its roughly $174,000 annual operating budget.
At the current rate of withdrawal, Corcoran said, the endowment could be gone within seven years.
Now, the trustees’ goal is to increase the towns’ overall contributions to around $80,000, an amount they hope will be enough to shelter the principal from the economic storm.
“It could allow us to really knock down that endowment withdrawal, to protect that endowment,” Corcoran said.
The Bixby’s other main source of income beside its endowment and town contributions is its annual fund drive, which this past year was budgeted to raise about $14,000. Benefactors responded to the board’s urgent appeal, Corcoran said, and it looks like donations could reach $22,000 by June, the end of the Bixby’s fiscal year.
On a town-by-town basis, the Bixby this year is requesting:
• $10,000 in Addison, up from $7,004 for the past eight years. Addison residents will vote by Australian ballot on that request, as they do on other charitable contributions, on the Town Meeting Day ballot.
• $29,000 in Ferrisburgh, up from $18,000. Ferrisburgh residents adopt town spending items from the floor of town meeting, with an opportunity to discuss each individual charitable request.
• $7,959 in Panton, up from $6,300. Panton residents will vote by Australian ballot on that request, as they do on other charitable contributions, on the Town Meeting Day ballot.
• $4,278 in Waltham, up from $2,300. Waltham residents will decide that request as a separate article from the floor of town meeting.
Corcoran said the Bixby board has not determined how much to request from Vergennes. Aldermen set the city budget in June. Corcoran said library trustees believe “obviously, some sort of equity” will apply to Vergennes, but they also will be mindful that the city’s public works department maintains the exterior of the property.
“We’ll be talking with the board of aldermen after town meeting,” she said.
The operating budget does not include money to fund a few building improvements Corcoran said the Bixby needs, but the library board plans to pursue grants to fund those.
In the meantime, the board is focused on the goal of not bleeding money just to stay open, and according to Corcoran believes a reasonable hike in town funding is “the most equitable way” to do so.
Selectmen in the four towns have by and large agreed, she said.
“It was a very supportive reception,” Corcoran said. “They were all very understanding of our situation and appreciative of the fact we haven’t come every year.”
Andy Kirkaldy is at andyk@addisonindependent.com

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