Council cuts $100,000 from library

MERRIMACK – In a marathon meeting that plunged past 1 a.m., councilors on Tuesday finished trimming a total of $1 million from proposed spending, punctuated by a $100,000 bottom-line squeeze to the library.

The Town Council’s cuts get the proposed budget for next year back in line with current spending. That was its goal at the beginning of this year’s budget cycle: present voters a zero-increase plan.

>>Statistics<< A cost-saving, trash-and-recycling program that failed last week sent the council to task on shaving more than $800,000 in order to accomplish the zero-increase goal. On Tuesday, it eliminated a transfer station attendant and a part-time grounds worker, adding to two part-time fire department positions unloaded last week. Town Manager Keith Hickey is still considering the best arrangement for health officer and building inspector positions. In addition, the council approved a single-stream recycling program, saving $59,000 and allowing users to throw all recyclables in one area, reduced a highway reserve fund, thereby delaying an improvement project on Columbia Circle, and skimmed thousands in funds across all departments for supplies, overtime, training and more. The biggest single whack, though, was to the library. Although all departments took hits, including significant cuts to Parks and Recreation relative to its overall budget, the library's bottom line was sliced by about 10 percent. Councilor Mike Malzone first proposed slashing $200,000 from the library, which started with a level-funded budget of about $1.2 million. His request failed, but then David Yakuboff proposed the $100,000 cut. >>Town Meeting ‘09<< On Wednesday, Yakuboff said he'd researched Manchester's system, which has two libraries that serve a city of 110,000 on a budget of $2.4 million. After some number crunching, he determined that Merrimack's library budget, in comparison to its population, was too high. He estimated that even by cutting some supervisory or non-supervisory positions, the library would "probably still provide the same or similar services that you could without those extra people or without that extra dollar value." Patrick McGrath, treasurer of the library trustees - which handles how its money is spent - said Wednesday that the council's move was "perplexing" because the library is serving more people demanding more materials than ever before. "The people who work at the library and the board of trustees, we know it's a tough economy," McGrath said. "We're not saying that we're unwilling, but it really caught us by surprise after we did exactly what they asked us to do." Referring to 2006, when voters - lead by an anti-tax group - dissolved a decade of savings for a new library building, McGrath added, "This is not the first time that the community has balanced its budget on the back of the library." Trustee Chairwoman Barbara Tucker said the group could meet next week to hash out where to make cuts. An open position may be frozen and duties reallocated to other staffers, which would save about $50,000, she said. The rest will probably come from materials and programming, or even from cutting hours or perhaps closing Sundays. Yakuboff's measure passed, 5-2. Councilors Tom Mahon and Finlay Rothhaus opposed. Voters will have a chance to comment on the proposed budget and warrant articles next Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Mastricola all-purpose room. Deliberative Session is March 10; voting day is April 14.