DATE: April 07, 2014
Wareham regains certification; 2015 in question
At its April 3, 2014 meeting the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) voted to grant the appeal of the FY2014 Municipal Appropriation Requirement (MAR) to Wareham and rescinded its action of March 6, 2014 denying Wareham a waiver of the FY2014 MAR. This action certifies the library in the FY2014 State Aid to Public Libraries program. The Board also took further action that affects FY2015 -- in a 5 to 3 vote, Commissioners passed a motion that places stipulations on Wareham's FY2015 certification in the State Aid to Public Libraries Program. The motion included the following:
The Board reserves the right not to grant a waiver of the 2015 Municipal Appropriation Requirement if the town's appropriation to the library is not restored to the FY2013 level of $432,835.
Under this motion, the library will also have to meet the hours of operation and the material expenditure requirements. The Board will review Wareham's FY2015 State Aid to Public Libraries application at its November 2014 meeting to determine compliance and vote at its December meeting. This is an expedited process as the Board usually begins considering MAR waivers at its January meeting and votes on certification in February.
At the April meeting, Wareham Free Library Trustees, Library Director Denise Medeiros, and several members of the Wareham School Committee addressed the MBLC and spoke of the possibility of a Board of Selectman-backed town override. With a proposed library budget for FY2015 of $125,000 (the FY2014 budget is $325,637), the override is needed to keep the library operational. Commissioners raised concern that the proposed override is a general one and does not specifically target the needs of the library.
In addition to a lengthy testimony from Wareham representatives, the MBLC also received letters of support and emails from Wareham residents. Commissioners debated the question for over an hour. "The letters of support, emails, and the frustration you feel, should be directed at your local officials," said Board Chair Frank Murphy, "because whether a library is certified or not is a direct result of local actions. Here at the Board, we all want the Wareham Free Library to exist and to provide great service and improve over time. Our question is this: what will help Wareham get out of this difficulty?"
Commissioner George Comeau agreed. "Everything you said we feel and we commend the job your Director, Trustees and Friends have been doing. But you've had six consecutive waivers," he said. "Either your town supports the library or it doesn't -- for the library to have a place at the table, the most powerful tool we can give you is decertification."
Commissioners encouraged Wareham to work with local officials and community members. "We do care," said Commissioner Carol Caro. "Our State Aid staff is here to support you, but we hope the library uses this time to get the vote out because this is serious."
Commissioners first raised concerns about funding to the Wareham Free Library at the January board meeting. In reviewing MAR waivers, Commissioners consider several factors including how the library's budget was reduced in comparison to the municipal budget. Libraries that sustain disproportionate reductions of greater than 10% are required to appear before the Board to outline future plans for the library.
In January, Commissioners noted that although Wareham Free Library's disproportionate reduction was only 6.89%, the library's budget had, in fact, sustained a 24.77% cut for FY2014. They also noted that over the past several years, the cumulative reduction to the library has resulted in present funding that is more than 50% below the MAR and nearly half of the 2007 municipal funding high of $699,109.
Since FY2008, Wareham has needed a MAR waiver each year to participate in the State Aid to Public Libraries Program. In 2009, they received a MAR waiver with reservation. In FY2010, Senator Marc Pacheco filed special legislation to certify Wareham after the library was not eligible to apply for the program due to its falling below the accommodated hours open requirement. During that year's State Aid application cycle, the MBLC also worked with Wareham to maintain certification. Wareham's certification was extended to February 2010 and Commissioners later granted temporary certification through March 2010 so that the library was able to stay certified until the Legislature considered Senator Pacheco's bill.
For the FY2014 State Aid to Public Libraries Program, 344 communities have been certified. Of those, 272 met all program requirements and 72 received MAR waivers. This is down from the FY2011 high of 123 applicants. Of the FY2014 MAR waiver applicants, 59 received increases in their library budgets, but not enough to meet the MAR. Overall, applications to the FY2014 State Aid Program indicate that municipal funding to libraries is beginning to rebound; Commissioners determined that the disproportionate reduction threshold of 5% should be reinstated for FY2015. The MBLC temporarily increased the threshold to 10% in 2010 in an effort to support libraries through the economic downturn.
Funding from the State Aid to Public Libraries Program goes directly to support public library services. The MBLC has made increasing state aid funding a priority in its FY2015 Legislative Agenda. The reciprocal borrowing privilege that comes with library certification in the State Aid program is what many patrons value most. It allows them to use any certified library in the Commonwealth and gives patrons access to more than 37 million items through the shared library system.
More information about the State Aid to Public Libraries Program is available on the MBLC website, along with a list of municipalities that are currently certified and those that are not certified in the program.
State aid is available to all municipalities and libraries that apply and are certified annually by the MBLC. Certification requires meeting the municipal appropriation requirement as well as certain minimum standards - including hours of opening and expenditures for library materials - of free public library service (per M.G.L. c.78, s.19A&19B and 605 CMR 4.00). State Aid to Public Libraries consists of the Library Incentive Grant (LIG), the Municipal Equalization Grant (MEG), and the Nonresident Circulation Offset (NRC). These three awards are disbursed to each municipality meeting the requirements using different formulas (per capita for the LIG; variant of the lottery formula, using population and EQV, for the MEG; and per transaction formula for the NRC).
The Board of Library Commissioners (mass.gov/mblc) is the agency of state government with the statutory authority and responsibility to organize, develop, coordinate and improve library services throughout the Commonwealth. The Board advises municipalities and library trustees on the operation and maintenance of public libraries, including construction and renovation. It administers state and federal grant programs for libraries and promotes cooperation among all types of libraries through regional library systems and automated resource sharing. It also works to ensure that all residents of the Commonwealth, regardless of their geographic location, social or economic status, age, level of physical or intellectual ability or cultural background, have access to essential new electronic information technologies and significant electronic databases.