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Massena Public Library trustees vote to move forward with plans for branch library

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MASSENA - The Massena Public Library’s Board of Trustees voted Tuesday night to move forward with plans to establish a satellite library in downtown Brasher Falls.

But they’ll need to move fast if they want the proposition on this November’s ballot. They’ll need a petition with 80 signatures of Brasher residents within the next five weeks. That represents 10 percent of the individuals who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

The satellite library, which is proposed for Crapser Hall, would come with an annual cost of $56,000 for Brasher residents.

Among the costs are $13,000 for the part-time manager’s salary and benefits. That person would be paid approximately $15.73 an hour for 15 hours a week. That cost is based on 50 percent of the highest paid part-time employee’s hours being spent at the branch.

“The concern was benefits. That’s why we have it part-time. We’re not using full-time employees here,” library Director Elaine Dunne-Thayer said.

It also includes $10,000 for furniture, $12,500 for a start collection, $3,600 for heat and lights, $5,400 for the technology and automation startup and rent at $400 a month for a five-year lease.

The proposal also includes $2,700 for an initial marketing campaign, some of which would be donated by the Friends of the Massena Public Library.

“It’s reasonable and can cover the first year of expenses,” Trustee Emily Hutchison said.

“The biggest thing is we’re not making money off this,” Trustee Jack Bain added.

“And we’re not using Massena budgeted money,” Ms. Dunne-Thayer said.

Board members were also asked to consider a second proposal that would require an annual budget of $59,650. That would have increased some costs such as furniture (from $10,000 to $13,000) but lowered other items such as technology and automation startup (from $5,400 to $5,350).

“The difference in these two is pretty minimal. It’s just what budget you’re more comfortable with,” North Country Library System consultant Emily Owen told trustees. “It stays at $56,000 until you change it. You may be shifting budget lines.”

While the budget contains initial start-up costs, she said those numbers would be rolled over into programming costs in subsequent years.

Still to be determined, she said, is what the impact would be on individual taxpayers. Now that they’ve set a budget, she said, they can come up with the tax rate increase per $1,000 of assessed value.

“The difference between the two isn’t going to make a difference in the per thousand rate,” Ms. Owen said.

Library officials are exploring the branch library based on a community survey in which Brasher residents expressed a desire to see such a facility in their community.

They had been approached about the idea by Ms. Owen, who herself had been approached by a representative from a local marketing firm who was working with a realtor in Brasher. The Tri-Town Chamber of Commerce had done a town survey asking residents what they would like to see and one of those responses was a town library.

The facility would allow the Massena Public Library to share services with the town of Brasher, but it would be self-supporting, with local residents paying the costs. Ms. Dunne-Thayer said, if residents voted for the proposition, they could use the Canton Free Library, which has branches in Morley and Rensselaer Falls, as a model.

“Certainly there are a lot of libraries around the state with branches, some of them with tons of branches,” Ms. Owen said.

Board President Mark Englert said he initially had some concerns about how the move would benefit the Massena Public Library.

“How is it going to help the Massena library? I’m kind of stuck on this. I need to be persuaded,” he said.

Ms. Dunne-Thayer said that, while the library is already operating “very conservatively,” they’ve been told by town officials now to anticipate a funding allocation that’s different from what they received this year.

That means that, if they faced additional expenses, it might mean reducing their staff, she said. However, with the opening of a branch library, that person could work in Brasher Falls with that town’s residents paying for a portion of the salary.

It would also allow the library to cut back on some programming costs. For instance, Ms. Dunne-Thayer said, if they hired a magician for their summer reading program, the cost would be less if that person also performed another show at a separate location.

The move would not impact the library’s circulation numbers, she predicted. In fact, Ms. Dunne-Thayer said, it would likely allow them to gain patrons who would use the local library instead of traveling to Massena.

Leslie Gardner, who is coordinating the marketing plan, said she would like to use different avenues to promote the effort, including the start of a Facebook page, building a small committee of library supporters and hosting an open house at Crapser Hall in which they could gather signatures for their petition.

Brasher’s Town Board meets this afternoon, but Supervisor M. James Dawson recently shared his concerns about the library’s proposal. He has said that if residents are going to see an increase in their taxes, he would rather see it for the construction of a new, badly-needed town barn. He said they have been trying to build a new highway garage relying on casino gaming compact funds rather than a tax increase, which they’ve avoided doing to this point.

He had also shared a concern that the town of Brasher might be asked to pay some of the health insurance and retirement costs for a part-time employee from the Massena Public Library who would staff the Brasher Falls facility.

In addition, he had wondered how many residents would take advantage of the branch library because of their location. Some, he said, already use other facilities.

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