Restoring hours to the Fairfield Public Library -- both the main library and Woods branch -- appeared to be a top priority for not just the library staff and public, but also for the Board of Finance as members reviewed the library budget Thursday.
The proposed budget for the library for Fiscal Year 2014 is $4.4 million, up 0.9 percent from the current year budget, and would allow for the previous fiscal year's hours to be restored, as well as more funds to purchase books and materials.
"The increase they're looking for is a speck compared to the overall budget," resident and RTM member Leigh Hannum, D-10, said. "The library is something everybody uses or knows about; it's part of the fabric of our town."
Last year, the library administration had to make $108,000 in cuts to help offset the . The part-time staff line item was cut by $72,000 -- resulting in reduced hours -- and the materials budget was cut by $36,000.
On Thursday, the town's financiers discovered that since the current fiscal year budget was passed, two positions remained vacant but budgeted for. Town Librarian Karen Ronald said one vacancy is due to the "general churn" of staff movement following a recent promotion.
The other was left open at the request of First Selectman Michael Tetreau, who told the board that due to the uncertainty in the wake of last year's budget cycle, he asked several department heads to leave positions unfilled for the time being.
"I was concerned with where we started Fiscal Year 2013 and additional concerns were raised later in the year," Tetreau said.
Finance board members took issue with a budgeted salary for a vacant position when the money could have been allocated to keep the library open during its regular hours.
Ken Brachfeld did the math -- the $72,000 that resulted in the reduction of hours equates to about 2 percent of the $3.4 million budgeted for salaries, benefits, and part-time staff.
"I find it hard to believe you couldn't find 2 percent in compensation to offset the hour reductions, rather than impose this hardship on the people of Fairfield," he said, adding that he believed there was some intent in the decision to put pressure on the finance board and the RTM.
Ronald told the board that when it came to deciding where the $108,000 would come from, she did not know that she could transfer funds from the full-time position account elsewhere to preserve the hours.
Library Board of Trustee member Mary Ellen McLean agreed. During her years on the board, "we were never told we could move the payroll numbers," she said.
Plus, Ronald added that she's "uncomfortable cutting more staffing positions. We're really leanly staffed now." According to the town's audit conducted a few years ago, the library is understaffed by two full-time positions, in addition to the current vacancies.
Some of the finance board members openly disagreed with the decision to reduce hours and leaving a budgeted vacancy.
"As a taxpayer, I think the [the library's] priority is that the doors need to be open. Everything after that is secondary. But you chose to close," James Walsh said. He asked that an analysis of the cost to run both branches of the library be made public prior to the RTM's budget vote in May.
"I think it's clear what this board thinks...I think everyone should know that we want the library hours restored," member Catherine Albin said.
The public's last chance to speak about the library's budget -- and the complete town and school district operating budget -- is Saturday, March 23 at the Senior Center (100 Mona Terrace). The open public comment session begins at 9:30 a.m.