Bixby Library makes pitch for city funds

VERGENNES — At their Tuesday meeting, Vergennes city council members heard a pitch from Bixby Library board President Paula Moore for $8,000 of increased support, but deferred a decision.
The council also decided to keep level the rates for using the city pool, while at the same time dipping deeper into the city’s Watershed Fund to cover a projected operating deficit.
Moore told the board the Bixby represents “a phenomenal value” to the five communities it serves.
She said that the library has developed a partnership with local schools that has helped reduce the percentage of children who are not ready for kindergarten (“It’s the first place children come to learn.”), while also providing valuable learning opportunities and services to teens and adults, and serving as “a social center.”
“It’s a community service you can use for your entire life,” Moore said.
She said the board has cut its annual operating budget — not including building upgrades — by 4 percent and relies heavily on 150 volunteers to run the library, including all staffing of the front desk.
Moore asked the council to follow Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton and Waltham and increase the Vergennes per capita contribution to $22, up from $18.94. She added that request for an increase was the first in four years.
That change would boost the city’s 2017-2018 fiscal year line item, as decided by the council before June 30, to $51,936 from $43,965. Those figures are both discounted by $5,000 to account for bookkeeping and property maintenance support for the library from city workers.
Moore said that increase, combined with those in other towns, would put five-town support of the Bixby operating budget at about 66 percent. She said the Bixby board believes it can continue to raise about 30 percent of the budget through its own fundraising, and possibly make up the other 4 percent and thus stop tapping the library’s endowment to make ends meet.
“We feel we could address that gap,” Moore said, while continuing to rely on grants to make improvements to the building.
Mayor Michael Daniels asked council members if they wished to ask questions or make any decisions on Tuesday, or defer discussions to later budget deliberations. Hearing nothing, Daniels told Moore the question would wait.
After discussion, the council agreed, but not unanimously, to keep pool rates at the 2016 level and to increase the donation to the pool from the Watershed Fund from $9,000 to $11,000.
City Manager Mel Hawley had projected a shortfall in the pool’s operating budget of almost $2,000 if nothing changed.
Alderwoman Lynn Donnelly opposed the level-funded rates, which for city residents are $50 for an individual season pass and $100 for a family pass, and $65 and $130, respectively, for non-residents. Donnelly said lower rates might increase sales and boost the bottom line.
Donnelly and Alderman Matt Chabot opposed the motion to increase the Watershed Fund assessment. Chabot said the city could absorb the small loss, and he said Alderman Mark Koenig’s suggestion of renting out the pool for private parties combined with more aggressive marketing of passes could make up the difference.
“$1,700 is not going to bankrupt the city of Vergennes,” Chabot said.
But Alderman Renny Perry, who made both motions, said he didn’t like “voting a deficit,” although he supported efforts to enhance revenue and suggested an organization such as a “Friends of the Vergennes Swimming Pool” to work on that task.
Perry, a former city manager in Vergennes and New Hampshire and also a onetime New Hampshire mayor, also said he had never seen a pool break even, and that in the long run the council would have to be realistic.
“It’s not going to make enough money to run itself,” Perry said.
Hawley said the operating budget does not include money to make any major repairs to a pool built more than 50 years ago and that was inspected this past fall and found wanting in some areas.
“As the pool gets older, the required subsidy gets bigger,” Hawley said.
But Hawley did not recommend raising rates, a move that he said “could potentially come back to bite you” by scaring off some potential customers.
In the long run, said Daniels, “We have to come up with another way to market the pool.”
In other business, the council:
•  Approved Hawley’s recommendation to spend $31,000 to fix the deteriorating concrete floor of the city’s Green Street fire station. Hawley and Perry both said the work was badly needed even though it far exceeded the $12,000 budgeted line item for station repair and maintenance.
But Hawley said $34,000 remained in the fire department fund balance from the 2016-2017 fiscal year to help pay for the work, and the council unanimously backed the project, which will be completed by the end of June. All deteriorating cement will be removed replaced by epoxy, Hawley said, and fire trucks will operate out of the sewer treatment plant during the week-long project.
•  Heard from Hawley that the upcoming project to rebuild the Route 7 at-grade railroad crossing outside the city will affect city traffic. Work is expected to begin May 1 and take a week, Hawley said, during which traffic will be limited to one lane and controlled by flaggers. Hawley said on Wednesday there would be no easy answers, but that some motorists and truck drivers would undoubtedly choose to use Route 22A, Green Street and New Haven Road to bypass backed-up traffic.
•  Agreed to donate a family pool pass to the Vergennes Union Elementary School Community Group. The group plans to raffle off several items, including the pool pass, at its annual spring VUES talent show. That event is a major fundraiser for a group that donates money to the school to allow it to afford items such as playground upgrades and arts programs.
•           Approved a vendor’s license for a taco truck to work during lunchtime hours this Saturday during a series of events planned in and around the Vergennes Opera House to benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes and the Evergreen Preschool. An organizer said the crowd expected would be too large to handle for the two downtown restaurants open at lunchtime.

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