The following is a letter to the editor of the Rutland Herald explaining the Library’s financial situation in some detail, following the Board of Aldermen’s decision to level-fund our budget.
Library finances explained
Feb. 28, 2017
To the editor
Thanks to the Herald for its recent coverage of the complex issues surrounding Rutland Free Library’s budget and our endowments. We are hearing from our patrons that they are not entirely clear on our financial status; please allow us this opportunity to set the matter straight.
The Library receives funds from three sources: Directly from taxpayers of Rutland City, Rutland Town, Mendon, Tinmouth and Ira; fundraising, which includes donations and grants; and endowments. Our main endowment is one left by Nella Grimm Fox, which supports the Library in addition to Grace Congregational Church and the hospital. It is referred to as the Fox Fund.
Nella Fox specifically provided that the Library was to spend money from her endowment on library resources that directly benefit patrons, namely the purchase of books and periodicals, but the form of books have changed a great deal in the intervening decades. The Library recently changed accounting firms as a prudent oversight step and the new accountant asked for clarity that we remained in compliance with Fox Fund restrictions. After conducting an investigation and, in an abundance of caution, receiving an independent legal opinion, the Library has concluded that we are in compliance with Ms. Fox’s bequest. This has been reported to the Board of Aldermen and the Herald.
But some people are under the impression that the positive finding on the Fox Fund means the Library is no longer in dire fiscal need. That’s unfortunately not the case.
At the same time as the Fox Fund review, we were going through the city budget process. Mayor Louras and the Recreation Committee unanimously recommended a 5 percent budget increase but the Board of Aldermen as a whole chose instead to level-fund us. We will accordingly be asking for level-funded budgets from our remaining towns in the interest of fairness, creating a roughly $40,000 shortfall in operations. Because the Fox Fund cannot be spent on day-to-day operations, this money needs to be made up through internal cuts and additional fundraising.
The internal cuts will be painful; we hope not to have to reduce the hours we are open to the public or the services we provide. But to give one example, last year we received a strong yes vote from all five towns to buy new computers for patron use. Our 2017-18 budget as written would have replaced a few staff PCs and planning to do so each year would remove the need to ask for a special levee for computers again. In order to meet other, more pressing operational needs, the computer budget has been cut, leaving the Library in a reactive rather than proactive stance for technology needs.
The Library endeavors to procure grants to help with its costs. But grants are typically only available for special, one-time costs, not to cover operating shortfalls. For instance, we received some $30,000 in grants last year, chiefly to pay for badly needed renovations to the restrooms, and to make them ADA compliant.
As for fundraising, we are acutely aware that Rutland only has so much charitable capacity. We host two fundraising events in alternating years, Tables of Content and Mini-Golf. Both are well-supported and popular events in the community. Friends of Rutland Free Library host monthly book sales to provide us with items like new shelving, carts and other needs. We also send out Annual Appeal letters to regular donors and we thank our various sponsors and donors. We gratefully appreciate all the support we receive, but in order to cover the budget gap without compromising our hours or services, we need to double the amount that we traditionally fundraise.
With the help of our patrons, staff and community, we are chipping away: We have set up penny jars and are asking patrons to donate a penny per item they borrow … which if we hit the target would return more than $1,700, or 4 percent of the budget cut. We are also selling bumper stickers that say “I Love Our Library” for $2 each, part of an awareness campaign fully funded by our Board of Trustees and in-kind donations from Green Screen Graphics and graphic designer Lyz Tomsuden.
We hope this clarifies our financial position for your readers. The Library remains a vibrant and relevant part of our community. We invite everyone to join us for our Mini-golf Adult Mixer on March 25 and Family Fun Day on March 26. We cannot stress enough how dependent and grateful we are for the continued generosity of our patrons and friends in order to provide our much-needed services, relied upon by so many people in our community.
Director Rutland Free Library
Assistant director Rutland Free Library