Otis Library explains effects of budget cuts to City Council

Norwich – If the City Council approves a proposed budget of $995,000 for Otis Library as recommended by City Manager John Salomone, the total would still be $130,000 less than the library received from the city four years ago.

Otis Library, run by an independent board of trustees but mostly funded by the city, received four years of steady budget cuts from the city until the budget stabilized at $950,000 last year. City Manager John Salomone has recommended increasing library funding to $995,000 for fiscal 2019-20, while library officials requested an increase to $1.194 million.

Library Executive Director Robert Farwell and three board officers discussed the library’s proposed budget with the City Council during a department budget meeting Monday. Farwell said the recommendation was lower than requested, but “an improvement from where we were.” He called it a “step in the right direction.”

Board Treasurer Charles Seeman told the City Council that the library has been running an operational budget deficit for the past few years and has been forced to take money from the library’s endowment to cover operating losses.

Farwell said the library already cut staff salaries from $775,000 to $730,000, leaving gaps in service when someone is sick or on vacation. Farwell said cutting services would have a circular effect, because the city then could question requests to increase funding if services are declining. But continued cuts could lead to reduced programs and hours, Farwell said.

Seeman said the library has projected an operating loss of $238,000 this year. He said it will take all of the library’s endowment interest income and part of its principal to cover the loss. Otis has an endowment totaling $4.5 million, of which about half is restricted and cannot be drawn down to cover an operating loss.

“As long as we keep pulling money out of the principal, it’s going to get worse and worse,” Vice Chairman Nicholas Fortson said.

Aldermen said they recognized the value of the library to the city, and in its role as a community center for Norwich. But aldermen also complained that they had not received the library’s operating budget with line items for specific expenses and its various revenue sources, including fundraising. Library officials submitted that budget to the city in November along with its budget request and said they would provide copies to the City Council directly.

Farwell said annual fundraising brings in about $75,000 including the annual appeal, evening with an author and other fundraisers. The annual investment interest income is about $140,000 to $150,000.

“Otis library is a champion in the city of Norwich with programs that are run for the downtown economic development that supports people coming downtown,” board Chairman John Iovino said. “We need to begin thinking about supporting our champions and not making it difficult for champions to continue to be champions. It’s hard to do that year after year.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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