NEW GLOUCESTER — Despite the large showing of support for the library at Monday night’s selectboard meeting, Town Manager Brenda Fox-Howard made one thing clear: Until a new budget can be redrafted and put before voters, the library will remain closed and its two staff members no longer town employees.

The town landed in this position after a months-long debate over funding led to two “no” votes in protest of budget cuts led by some supporters of the library.

“Let’s be clear, the rejection of the vote was in support (of the library),” said CeCe Rohrbach, the Library Trustees chairperson, at the Sept. 21 meeting.

After the library and Planning Department budgets were voted down in the July election, the selectboard had 60 days to redraft a new budget to put before voters. But there was no provision built into the Sept. 15 vote to do the same if the budgets were rejected again.

Without approval of the budget in a referendum vote, the town cannot keep the library open, said Fox-Howard earlier this month.

Over 50 people joined Monday’s virtual meeting to show their support for the library, urging the selectboard to find a way forward and reopen it.

“What we’re doing right now, we are really taking the soul out of this community, we’re taking the soul out of us. We’ve got to keep the soul of the community intact and that means let’s reopen that library,” Frank Chambets said.

“I think we’re shooting ourselves in the foot if we keep the library closed – socially, culturally, economically,” Penny Hilton said.

It was apparent that some residents didn’t realize a second “no” vote would shut down the library, said Selectboard Chair Karen Gilles. Emily Bader / Lakes Region Weekly

Some asked the selectboard if they could implement “emergency funding,” but Fox-Howard said that that is impossible without another referendum vote.

And because of absentee voting requirements and printing deadlines, it would be impossible to redraft the budget and put it before voters until after the presidential election in November.

Former selectboard member Joe Davis said that supporters of the library knew the consequences of rejecting the budget a second time.

“They decided for zero hours and with that, two people got laid off instead of just dealing with the 36 hours (for the assistant librarian’s position) and dealing with the issue later on,” Davis said.

But some residents at Monday night’s meeting said that they were confused by the yellow “Vote no to save the library” signs around town.

“It was really misleading (and) perhaps naïve to think that if we voted no that the board would change its mind,” Jonathan Mitschele said. “It seems to me that should have been made clear that to vote no would mean the library would fail to exist.”

This seemed to be the case for many voters, said Selectboard Chairperson Karen Gilles.

Gilles and Fox-Howard could not be reached for comment on the selectboard’s next steps.

If the selectboard decides not to redraft the budget, the library will remain closed for the remainder of the fiscal year, until July 1, 2021.

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