ANCRAM—Supporters and patrons of the Roeliff Jansen Community Library got a little more to be thankful for when the Town Board voted last week not to decrease the town’s annual contribution to the library in next year’s budget.
A contingent of library supporters appeared at the November 17 Town Board meeting to voice their displeasure over the board’s decision last month to reduce the town’s library contribution from $7,500 this year to $5,000 next year.
The library at 9091 Route 22 in Copake is chartered to serve the towns of Hillsdale, Copake and Ancram, a total population of about 7,000. Ancram is the only one of the three towns that has voted twice not to opt in to a tax that would help fund the library’s operating budget.
Copake taxpayers fork over $55,000 annually and Hillsdale taxpayers shell out $42,500, but on the last library ballot proposition in 2014, a majority (55%) of Ancram voters said no thanks to paying $30,000 a year to support the local library’s services.
Each year Ancram has voluntarily allocated a smaller amount than the proposition had called for on a budget line for the library.
Ancram resident Jennifer Berne asked the board to reconsider keeping the annual library contribution at $7,500. She said the difference between $5,000 and $7,500 amounts to $1.61 per person. “That little amount of difference ($2,500) means a lot to the library,” she said. She presented the board with a long list of stuff patrons can get for free at the library, not just books, but movies, magazines, music concerts, author talks, art and photography exhibits, informational speakers and how-to workshops on varying subjects, help with taxes and job searches; not to mention flu shots, wi-fi connections, kids’ activities and programs for seniors.
Councilmember Madeleine Israel, a proponent of maintaining the library contribution at $7,500, said the old argument that people object to the amount of money spent on constructing the new library building does not make sense. It’s not the building that’s at issue, “it’s what happens inside it.”
Ancram resident Adrienne Citrin said she was disturbed that the town gives such a small amount to the library, noting that more than 40% of Ancram voters cast ballots in favor of being taxed to support the library. “I think we should be ashamed of not supporting the library,” she said.
Ancram resident and Zoning Board of Appeals Chair Bonnie Hundt said, “I’m embarrassed about what we are not doing for the library.” Although two referendums were voted down, still 45% of people were willing to spend $30,000 on the library,” said Ms. Hundt. “The town spends many thousands of dollars on trucks, how can we not spend a couple of thousand on the library?”
Michael Citrin, Ancram resident, town Financial Advisory Committee member and a member of the library Board of Trustees, said to maintain the $7,500 library contribution would not stop the town from making any other financial decision. He said “the library is not just a place of books.” He said it’s a place where kids can go “before the age of books” and where “they teach old folks like me to use a computer. It’s a place of knowledge, a place to grow.”
Councilmember Hugh Clark said he previously asked a library official to break out income and expenses associated with library services versus community center services. He wanted to be assured that tax money was going to fund the library and not a community center of which Ancram was “not particularly a part.” He then spoke at length about how a representative should decide what to do on such a “lose-lose” issue that “is dividing the town to a great extent.”
Councilmember David Boice said he was conflicted because while he voted in favor of the library referendum for $30,000 twice, 55% of Ancram voters opposed it. People wondered why the library did not come to them the second time with a different number, he said. “Do you vote based on your judgment or what people voted on?” he asked.
Councilmember Christopher Thomas opposed the $7,500 library contribution, noting he had heard complaints from residents last year when the library contribution was raised to that amount. They thought they had made their feelings known by voting down the library funding referendum twice, he said.
In another related budgetary matter, Mr. Thomas proposed using $18,500 that the town received in cost savings and higher than expected mortgage tax receipts to give back to the community by lowering the amount to be raised by taxes next year. (That measure was approved, but lowered to $16,000 after $2,500 was added to the library contribution.)
In a roll call vote on the $7,500 library contribution, all board members with the exception of Mr. Thomas voted in favor.
Among the audience members witnessing town government in action that evening were six members of Hillsdale Boy Scout Troop 752. Scout leaders and some scout parents were also there. The scouts came to satisfy a requirement for their “Citizenship in the Community” merit badge.
Four of the scouts live in Copake, one in Hillsdale and one in Claverack, they are all students at Taconic Hills, Scout Leader Donald Coons, Jr., told The Columbia Paper. They said they had chosen to attend the Ancram meeting because the timing was right in terms of the meeting date.
At the end of the hour and a half meeting, Town Supervisor Art Bassin asked if any of the boys would like to weigh in on what they had learned from the experience.
One scout quipped, “No comment.”
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