Library seeks budget increase; grant, gift will cover rooftop patio

Ridgefield Public Library in downtown Ridgefield, Conn, Thursday, February 14, 2019.
Ridgefield Public Library in downtown Ridgefield, Conn, Thursday, February 14, 2019.

A rooftop patio that’s a pleasant grace note in the library’s plans will be financed by a state grant and a private donor. But with increasing library use, a building that’s no longer brand new, and skyrocketing health insurance costs, the library’s leadership is looking for a little more help from the town.

The library is proposing a $2,953,000 budget, with $2,081,000 of that coming from the town — an increase of 3.6% over the town’s current year contribution to the library.

The library is a quasi-public institution — it has an endowment and a private board of directors, but the town provides the bulk of its budget and gets to appoint some library board members. Among the library’s sources of income, other than the town, are: annual appeal, budgeted at over $356,000 — up 6.7% from 2019-20; events, $154,000 — up 6.7%; passport processing, $16,000 — up 6.7%; trust income, $247,000 — down 3.1%.

The library’s $2.9-million budget request represents an increase of about $111,000, or 3.9%, over the current 2018-19 budget.

The agreement
The selectmen, however, recalled the agreement reached between the town and library when the library board was seeking support for a $20 million expansion project, completed in 2014. The understanding was that town’s annual support of the library’s operating budget would grow at the same rate as other town departments — excluding the schools.

“The agreement with the library was the library would stay with the same percentage increase as the town,” said Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark. “We’re coming in at zero.”

“It’s different this year,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi agreed.

Before the town’s spending goal was knocked to a zero increase this year in recognition of many taxpayers being hit with a loss of deductions on their federal income taxes, the town’s annual budget work was guided a 2.5% spending increase cap set for municipalities by the state legislature.

The library had budgeted with this in mind — and still had exceeded it.

“We are requesting a town appropriation increase of 3.6%,” Library Board chairman Gary Rapp wrote to the selectmen. “The library has worked very hard to keep our operational expenses at a minimum. We began this budget request with a 2.5% increase in the town contribution, yet we find that our biggest challenge continues to be increases in the cost of health care benefits.”

Library staff share in town employees’ health insurance, which is projected to go up significantly. “...We have been advised to include a projected 15% increase in health care costs,” Rapp wrote. The difference between a 2.5% and a 15% health benefits increase is “an additional $22,987.”

272,000 visits
He touted the library’s popularity, saying 94% of Ridgefield households have a library card and more than 272,646 patrons visited the library on the 335 days it was open — 814 visits a day.

The library budget lists statistics showing more library use in the last year: 22,700 downloads of digital e-books, audiobooks and magazines — a 13.8% increase; 107,900 free wireless sessions in the library — up 15.3%; more than 36,800 people attending library programs — up 12.1%.

Library Director Brenda McKinley said that while printed book borrowing was “down slightly” there had been a 13% increase in downloaded book circulation.

“We have folks who are using it and loving it,” she said. “But we’re limiting it to four per month, per patron.”

Up on the roof
The roof patio plans do not show in the library’s budget or capital budget. It was brought up by First Selectmen Rudy Marconi, who’d seen it mentioned in library board minutes.

McKinley said the patio — part of the original plans for the building — would be on the Dayton Program Room’s roof.

“We were successful in getting a state grant and our generous local matching donor,” McKinley said. The grant is $40,000, matched with $40,000, allowing $80,000 for the project.

The state grant is all approved, but the library can’t get started until the state bond commission meets and releases the money. The work involved is minor, and should take only a few weeks, McKinley said. She had been hoping to get it done this spring, but with bonding commission meetings recently postponed is now thinking sometime this year.

The patio area will be wheelchair accessible and have outlets providing electricity.

“It will allow people to sit out there with their laptops. There’s room for probably four tables,” McKinley told the selectmen.

“Nice,” said Kozlark.

The library’s request for 2019-20 in the town’s five-year capital spending plan includes $26,000 for refurbishment of “the automated materials handling system, which we call ‘the beast,’ ” McKinley said.

“The library employs a Bibliotheca Automated Material Handling System (AMH) which was installed in 2014 at the time of the library expansion,” the budget says. “When patrons return library materials, the AMH ‘checks the items in’ so that the items are no longer attached to the patrons’ library accounts and then sorts the items to bins according to the shelving location in the library building.

“This system enables the library to complete these tasks automatically. At the time of installation, this system enabled flat staffing levels. It would be cost prohibitive and inefficient to hire staff to do this work.”

The $26,000 is for “updates parts replacement and support to keep this equipment running.”

Another $20,000 for “patron and staff computer replacements” is in the library’s capital budget. “Network equipment includes workstations, network switches and hubs, printers, the wireless system, and ancillary equipment such as uninterruptible power sources. This plan is a rotation replacement cycle coupled with highlighted larger items in certain years.”

The request includes replacement of 23 workstations used by both public and staff in the children’s department and the staff office areas.

“The issue we have in our building is everything was new in 2014,” McKinley said.

The selectmen were somewhat skeptical of $19,000 to replace the fence along the library’s northern property line. The fence protects the property to the north from both intrusive headlights and the occasional accident.

“That fence has been there since 2002,” said former library director Chris Nolan, who was part of a 17-member delegation of library supporters at the meeting. “At the time there were eight incidents in one year: They thought they were in reverse, they were in forward — they went right through.”

In later discussion the selectmen said the new fence might be postponed this year, at least, since the property to the north appeared headed for redevelopment.