Brunswick council presses for more info on library spending; majority ready to spike Coffin Pond funding

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BRUNSWICK — A majority of town councilors on Monday said they are prepared to restore a portion of the $107,000 subsidy cut proposed for Curtis Memorial Library, but not until library officials reveal if the allocation would provide raises for employees.

Meanwhile, the Town Council appeared poised to end its funding for Coffin Pond. However, town officials said that doesn’t necessarily mean the swimming hole will close this summer.

The 10 percent reduction in the library’s subsidy has emerged as a focal point for councilors, who have been under persistent lobbying pressure to reconsider or reduce the cut.

Although most councilors said they were willing to ease the blow, some wanted assurances that the subsidy won’t provide pay increases at a time when the council is also considering a $28.8 million budget that includes layoffs for municipal employees.

“I support the library, but I’m also looking at this from a sustainability standpoint,” Chairwoman Joanne King said. “… And I fear this town is heading on a path that’s unsustainable.”

On Tuesday, Liz Doucette, the library’s executive director, said in an e-mail that the library “is currently planning on a budget including no staff increases of any kind for the coming fiscal year.”

The council was scheduled to hold a workshop on Thursday, when library officials were expected to provide additional details about how they use the town subsidy. Several councilors indicated Monday that the information would help determine how much of the allocation they are prepared to restore.

The council’s debate over the library subsidy dominated most of the discussion Monday, with at least one councilor, Gerald Favreau, saying the lobbying efforts by library supporters “totally upset” him.

Meanwhile, Councilor Suzan Wilson challenged the library to increase its fundraising. She said the library is being outperformed by Tedford Housing, a local homelessness advocate and shelter provider.

Criticism of the lobbying effort irked Councilor Ben Tucker.

“Supporters of the library are not a howling hoard,” Tucker said. “Instead of being offended that citizens would dare to speak out, we should be thankful that they are (speaking). They do it for everything else. … We shouldn’t be offended just because we don’t happen to agree with what they’re saying.”

Favreau later said the majority of the phone calls he has received from library supporters were respectful and polite. He said his main concern is about granting a subsidy at a time when town employees could lose their jobs.

“We know these people,” Favreau said.

The proposed budget targets several municipal positions for elimination, including the deputy director of public works and the natural resources planner, two positions that have elicited lobbying from residents hoping to retain them.

Coffin Pond

Although the library debate isn’t settled, councilors appeared to reach a consensus on Coffin Pond, a swimming hole perennially proposed to lose funding.

Most councilors said Monday that they supported cutting the funding, which would save about $59,000 a year. However, town officials said the Recreation Department could attempt to keep the pool open through fundraising.

Town Manager Gary Brown said the department’s might be able to keep Coffin Pond open for a year.

Currently, the proposed budget includes a 2 percent increase, which would raise Brunswick’s property tax rate from $22.54 per $1,000 of assessed value to $22.99.

A budget retaining current staffing and service funding levels would require a 6.5 percent increase, or a $24 mil rate.

Although the council is attempting to reduce the projected 2 percent increase, Councilor Benet Pols told his colleagues that the current spending plan could already be less than advertised.

“Last year we were told that we had a budget with a 1.6 percent increase and then the guy with the pointy hat with stars on it waved his wand and we magically ended up at zero,” said Pols, referring to town officials shifting money to different accounts.

“I know there’s some play in there,” he added.

The council’s public hearing on the municipal budget will be held May 17, followed by a vote on May 27.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or [email protected]