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    Thursday, October 06, 2022

    Ledyard Finance Committee explores repair needs, library options

    Ledyard — The town Finance Committee ventured out of its normal meeting space for a site visit examining the capital needs projects at the public works complex before moving to the Council Chambers to hear a presentation from Library Systems & Services.

    Town Councilors Andra Ingalls and Bill Saums followed Public Works Director Steve Masalin as he led them through the public works complex, pointing out what needs repairing.

    Capital needs funding is distributed among high-, medium- and low-priority problems within town buildings, such as the Senior Center and the Emergency Services Building.

    At the public works complex, re-roofing the main building, original truck shed and flammable storage shed is the primary concern for Masalin — and the most expensive, coming in at an estimated $162,494. Other possible repairs include the truck exhaust system, $39,930; wash bay heating system replacements, $25,000; garage heating system replacements, $7,000, and miscellaneous improvements, $1,401. Altogether, repairs at the Public Works Complex are estimated to cost $235,826, per Masalin's numbers.

    A January estimate from Masalin had the town facility capital needs budget at $297,000 for the year. That number has dwindled after undertakings such as work done on the Nathan Lester House.

    Ingalls and Saums asked questions and took pictures during their visit. The Finance Committee will review the matter at next week's official meeting, although Masalin pointed out the money already had been allocated. The meeting may feature analysis and fine-tuning of Masalin's current plan.

    The total amount of money needed to complete every capital needs project is $1,113,250. Town leadership has deemed the issues with the public works complex the most urgent, so cases like entrance improvements at the Town Hall and roof repairs at the Gales Ferry Library likely will be addressed after the fiscal year.

    Special presentation from Library Systems & Services

    Ingalls and Saums met fellow Finance Committee member and Town Councilor Tom Malone back at the Council Chambers to hear from Library Systems & Services, a national, for-profit social entrepreneurship company that, among other functions, can be used by municipalities to manage library systems.

    The company had contacted the town about possibly privatizing the town's library system. Ledyard oversees two libraries: Bill Library and Gales Ferry Library, which are staffed by volunteers and town employees. The Ledyard Library Commission, a municipal department, along with a library director supervise the town's libraries.

    Library Systems & Services has been in business for more than 30 years and operates more than 80 libraries throughout the country. During the presentation Wednesday night, the company promised to be cost neutral, use technology to "optimize library services," keep hours the same year-round rather than having different hours in the summer, work closely with volunteers and existing library leadership and "under the Governance of the Library Commission," expand library programs, improve and update book collections and bring overall "best practices" to Ledyard.

    Finance Committee members asked about what would happen to town employees if Library Systems & Services stepped in, possible comparisons to similar-sized markets and how, exactly, it would be better than Ledyard's current system.

    The libraries currently are staffed by volunteers who put in a lot of work, Malone said. "Our people are doing a great job for us now."

    Saums said that, despite not saving money for Ledyard, Library Systems & Services implied it would have more programs and services, and that the town should "at least hear what they have to say."

    The 25-plus people affiliated with Ledyard's libraries, or simply interested in the meeting, filled the Council Chambers to standing-room-only capacity. Grumbles and whispers could be heard when the topic of layoffs came up.

    Library Systems & Services presenters said the company offers jobs to all town employees when it takes over a library system but not every employee accepts and, after some time, there is attrition.

    Connecticut Library Association President Kate Byroade, who attended the meeting, said this is because Library Systems & Services would put forth less money than the town pays. She also said LSS wasn't offering anything different than what Ledyard already has in place.

    "Everything that they're talking about is standard practice," Byroade said. She argued the collection analytics that LSS touted were no different from Libraries Online, a Connecticut "consortium of public libraries formed to share a common integrated library system and to provide easy access to all of the consortium's collections," according to the agency's website.

    "They talk about automation like it's a big, flashy, new thing. We've been automated for 40 years," Byroade continued.

    Byroade also had reservations about outsourcing.

    "I really wonder how they expect to run a small local library in Connecticut," Byroade said. "What's the catch? LSS wants a foothold in Connecticut. What are we gonna privatize next? The police department? The fire department?"

    The Ledyard Finance Committee also will be discussing this topic further at next week's meeting.

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