ANCRAM—The onset of town budget season has rekindled the debate over how much money Ancram should allot for its annual donation to the Roeliff Jansen Community Library.
The library at 9091 Route 22 in Copake, is chartered to serve the towns of Copake, Hillsdale and Ancram.
Both Copake and Hillsdale voters have approved an annual tax levy to fund the library. Copake pays $55,000/year and Hillsdale pays $42,000. Voters in Ancram have twice rejected what’s called a “414” ballot proposition seeking to fund the library via a set annual tax levy. Currently, Ancram along with Taghkanic and Columbia County do make annual voluntary contributions to the library.
Ancram resident Jane Plasman, who is a member of the library’s Board of Trustees and serves on library committees, introduced the library’s new director Tamara Gaskell to the Town Board at its September 20 meeting and gave a presentation about library programs and use of the library by Ancram residents to make a case for an increased donation in 2019.
The town donated $7,500 this year and Councilmember Bonnie Hundt asked the board last month to consider raising the town’s contribution by $10,000 to $17,500 next year.
Ms. Plasman said an assumption that Ancram residents do not use the Roe Jan Library but instead go to the Pine Plains or Millerton libraries is not true.
Bearing statistics from the Mid-Hudson Library System (MHLS), Ms. Plasman said 585 Ancram residents are MHLS cardholders and 548 of them or 93.7% list the Roe Jan Library as their home library.
One hundred ninety-eight Ancram library patrons have checked out more than 4,196 items from the library so far this year—for a total savings of $51,629.50 in books or other purchases. The cost of a book purchase is estimated at $17 and a DVD at $4, both conservative estimates. The total savings does not count the value of the use of online resources, ebooks, computers, fax services or attending programs like concerts, flu shot clinics or tax preparation services, said Ms. Plasman.
Another assumption addressed by Ms. Plasman is that Roe Jan Library programs do not appeal to Ancram residents because there are “Too many classical music concerts and poetry readings.”
Yet, according to Ms. Plasman, in 2017 there were a total of 55 children’s programs at the library attended by 1,201 youngsters. For the Polar Express holiday program alone, 235 were in attendance.
More than 300 attended the library’s second annual free picnic featuring a “Birds of Prey” demonstration in August this year.
Upcoming programs include: astronomy and star-gazing, local history, civics, music and literature, a flu shot clinic and another holiday event.
Of 82 Ancram respondents to a library community outreach survey, 66 said they visit the library: 8 respondents said 1 to 2 times/week, 25 said 1 to 2 times/month and 20 said 1 to 2 times/year.
Ms. Plasman said the library asks the town board for a $17,500 donation in 2019. She said the board decides how to spend taxpayer money “relative to what’s good for the community” whether it’s for the pool, camp, highways or a gazebo and does not take a vote of the people for every expenditure.
One Ancram resident in the audience said she uses the Millerton Library, which is also part of the Mid-Hudson system, and believes Ancram is “mooching off the system, we’re cheating by not even donating half” of what the library sought from Ancram in 2014 through the 414 funding proposition on the general election ballot.
Councilmember Madeleine Israel referred to a September New York Times article saying, “the concept of libraries has changed with the times. They are now community and cultural centers.”
Playing devil’s advocate, Ancram resident and library supporter Mike Citrin asked the board what the reasoning would be for not supporting the library.
Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin said “because for two years in a row a majority of voters said ‘No’ to a 414 and there has not been another since 2014. Until the next 414 it’s probably not appropriate to do a drastic increase.”
A young woman from Ancram said when she was a college student she could not have made it through without the Roe Jan Library. Now her son enjoys children’s programs at the library. “It is a great resource for the town,” she said.
Councilmember Hugh Clark said while he is “favorably disposed” to the library and an increase in funding, “the two 414s are not to be neglected.” The votes represent “a sizeable population who need to be heard,” he said.
At this juncture, Mr. Clark said the board needs to keep fact-finding and debating and should not include an increase for the library in the budget at this time. He said the board should hear from other audiences throughout the community.
When it came to a vote on whether to include a $17,500 donation to the library in the preliminary budget: Councilmember David Boice was absent; both Ms. Israel and Ms. Hundt voted yes; Mr. Clark voted no and Mr. Bassin abstained, saying it is his policy not to break tie votes. His abstention meant the measure did not pass.
Mr. Bassin said there was really no requirement that the board vote on the matter at this point and that he would use his judgment as budget officer about whether to include the higher appropriation in the preliminary budget.
The supervisor said in a follow-up phone call that he would include the library’s requested increase in the preliminary budget. He said then the board could vote in October whether to keep it in the budget.
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