NEW GLOUCESTER — Members of the Friends of the New Gloucester Library are mounting a “vote no” campaign  on the library budget at the Sept. 15 special referendum, but doing so runs the risk of shutting down the library indefinitely.

Like with their first effort ahead of the July election, the group is distributing signs throughout town and speaking out in favor of increasing the budget at various public meetings.

This is the second time that the library budget, as well as the Planning Department budget, will go before voters. Residents rejected the two articles at the polls in July, giving the Board of Selectmen 60 days to put a new budget before voters.

In the first town budget proposal that went before voters in July, the $8 million budget’s appropriation to the library and planning departments were $87,860 and $60,046, respectively. The library director’s hours were cut from 40 per week to 36 with benefits and the assistant librarian’s position was cut from 40 to 20 hours without benefits. Town Planner Scott Hastings’ hours were cut from 40 hours to 36 with benefits.

Hastings is the department’s only full-time employee. Library Director Suzan R. Hawkins and Assistant Librarian Carla McAllister are the library’s only employees and is otherwise supported by volunteers.

In the revised budget to go before voters next month, the planning department budget remains the same and the library budget increased to $96,026. The library director’s hours and benefits are the same, while the assistant librarian’s hours were increased to 30 without benefits.


Community members have written letters in support of the library or spoken at Selectboard meetings since budget workshops began at the beginning of the year, but their voices have “fallen on deaf ears,” said Friends President Kathleen Potter.

“We just can’t understand why the library has been the low-hanging fruit. They work hard,” Potter said on Tuesday. “(It) just seems terribly unfair. You almost look at this and you say, does somebody not like our library? And that’s the way I begin to feel about it.”

Potter said supporters of the library want the assistant librarian’s position reinstated to full-time with benefits, the minimum of which is 36 hours per week.

Town Manager Brenda Fox-Howard said at an Aug. 12 Q&A session over Zoom that if either of the two departments’ budgets fail again, the town will be forced to shut down the departments until another election can be called.

Still, Potter said they’re willing to take that risk.

Selectboard Chairman Karen Gilles said she has heard the opposition to the library cuts but has also heard conflicting feedback from Friends members who said they were happy with 30 hours.


She said she’s heard from other residents who have expressed that the library did not necessarily need two full-time employees.

“We were compromising (on hours for the assistant librarian) … We represent more than the Friends of the Library. We’ve had their input, (but) also heard from other residents the full-time position wasn’t needed,” Selectboard Chairman Karen Gilles said Wednesday.

Gilles added that  library budget numbers were decided at a joint workshop with the Budget Committee and Town Manager Brenda Fox-Howard. Fox-Howard had recommended only 26 hours at the July 29 meeting, Gilles said.

The Selectboard voted unanimously on the planning budget and passed the library’s 4-1, with Peter Bragdon voting against.

“I can’t speak as to why the other board members voted in the manner (that) they did … According to the (town) manager, the amount to restore hours and benefits is $18,000 more. We have been told that this will not affect the tax rate. It really makes sense to me to restore these funds,” Bragdon said via email earlier this week.

Other Selectboard members could not be reached for comment.

Gilles said that if voters force another referendum election, it will likely go on the November ballot.

If the planning budget fails, she said she anticipates that the Planning and Select Boards will have to fill in for Hastings in the interim.

“It’s a learning curve for everyone. We’re trying to do our best to represent the entire town, and we may not get it right, but we will eventually,” Gilles said.

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