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Bixby seeking new approach to town funding

VERGENNES — On March 1, residents of Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton and Waltham will be offered a choice on how their towns will in the future fund the Bixby Free Memorial Library.
The Vergennes library, which serves the four towns as well as its host city, has always been listed on the Town Meeting Day ballot in each community as a charitable entity making a specific funding request — except in Vergennes, where aldermen have always included the library in their budget.
The Bixby’s board of trustees this winter approached selectmen in the four towns and requested that instead voters be asked to allow the library to become a line item in selectmen’s proposed town budgets.
If residents approve the switch on this Town Meeting Day, as is required, the amount of future Bixby funding would thus be determined by selectboards, subject to voter approval at future town meetings.
Selectmen in Addison, Panton and Waltham agreed to put the question up to a town-wide vote, and the measure will appear on March 1 paper ballots.
In Ferrisburgh, selectmen opted to add an article to the warning for town meeting, and it will be discussed and then decided from the floor of the town’s annual meeting. Board chairwoman Loretta Lawrence said selectmen wanted residents to have a chance to talk it over at the town’s well-attended meeting immediately before casting ballots.
“It’s one of those things where you let the people decide,” Lawrence said.
Bixby board President Kitty Oxholm said trustees appreciated selectmen’s cooperation and backing.
“The support we have felt at each of the meetings we have gone to has been great,” Oxholm said. “We take it as a mandate to go forward and continue to meet the changing needs of the communities.”
Even though selectmen would have control over setting the line item, Oxholm said voters would still have final say on library spending.
“The residents still would be approving it,” she said.
Oxholm acknowledged the move comes with some risk. Voters typically back charitable requests, and in tough times selectboards might be tempted to cut support for the library, which itself has faced financial challenges in the past decade.
She said the answer is better communication to town officials of what the library is offering to residents.
“That (a funding cut) is the possibility. We realize that, and we also realize that we need to be much more in conversation with them throughout the year,” Oxholm said. “It gives us an extra challenge, but it’s one that needs to happen.”
Oxholm said there are a few reasons for requesting the change, but the major one is similar to that expressed by Vergennes Area Rescue Squad officials several years back when VARS made the switch from making charitable requests to becoming an on-budget agency.
“Obviously, we wouldn’t need to run around in the cold and get signatures for petitions,” Oxholm said. “The bigger piece is we really want to be considered part of the infrastructure in each of the five communities rather than something extra. We feel we are providing something important, and we get the sense the people in the five communities feel we are important to the life of the communities.”
At the same time, the Bixby this year is increasing its charitable ballot requests in each community to reflect a per-citizen charge of $13.20, an amount its officials said is below the state average for library support.
• In Addison, the Bixby is requesting $18,388, up from $10,000.
• In Ferrisburgh, the Bixby is requesting $35,072, up from $29,000.
• In Panton, the Bixby is requesting $9,002, up from $7,959.
• In Waltham, the Bixby is requesting $6,323, up from $4,278.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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