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Trustees planned $2,000 party
J.J. Huggins, Sentinel & Enterprise, November 17, 2006

LEOMINSTER -- Despite $1.3 million in cost overruns, library officials had planned to spend "up to $2,000" on a "holiday brunch" inside the new multi-million dollar library next month, according to minutes from a recent Leominster Public Library Board of Trustees meeting.

But they can't because the building won't be ready in time, Gilbert Tremblay, the chairman of the board, said Thursday.

"This (was) going to be a reception for city officials, for people who have made donations, etc.," Tremblay said during an interview.

The trustees met on Oct. 10 -- the same day the City Council voted 7-1 to approve a $1.3 million loan to cover a shortfall for renovating the library.

The trustees, at the Oct. 10 meeting, approved the minutes for their Sept. 11 meeting, which included a portion about the brunch.

"The trustees unanimously approved expending up to $2,000 from trust funds for this as a way of saying 'thank you' to everyone who has worked so hard on the library project," the minutes say.

The brunch was going to be for "trustees, staff, building committee members, the friends executive board and the library fundraising committee," according to the minutes.

The City Council voted in 2003 to approve $7.8 million for the library, and the state contributed a $3 million grant.

The fundraising committee has so far raised $700,000, with a goal of reaching $1.2 million to pay for furnishings, according to the library's Web site.

At large Councilor John Dombrowski voted in favor of the spending, but said it was a tough call because library officials waited so long to tell councilors about the money problems.

"No one was happy about that vote," he said.

Dombrowski expressed fury that people involved with the library wanted to spend $2,000 on a brunch.

"It's outrageous," he said. "They should give us $2,000 back so we can spend it elsewhere."

Dombrowski said he would rather see $2,000 spent on youth sports, or to help pay for building repairs in a school.

Library Director Susan Shelton sent the Sentinel & Enterprise an e-mail Thursday, saying the money for the brunch would not have come from taxpayer dollars or donations intended for furnishings.

"To imply that this vote has anything to do with either the taxpayer dollars supporting this project, or the money raised privately for the building's furniture, fixtures, and equipment would be grossly misrepresenting the facts," she wrote.

She said "the library has 24 active trust funds currently totaling $243,253.20, nearly half of which has been committed to the library's expansion and renovation project."

She continued: "All trust funds were established through private donations, primarily bequests, some dating back to the late 19th century. The trustees' voted to use interest that has accumulated from a variety of unrestricted trust funds to host a small holiday gathering as a way to say 'thank you" to the many individuals who have given generously of their time and talents over the past seven years on behalf of the library's expansion and renovation project."

Dombrowski said he received Shelton's statement, but it didn't change his opinion.

"Given the circumstances, it's just outrageous," he said, noting that he and his law office have donated to the library.

At large Councilor Dennis A. Rosa, who voted against authorizing the loan to pay for the cost overruns, called using up to $2,000 to pay for a party "a slap to the taxpayers."

"I can't believe it," he said. "I'm taken aback."

City Council President Robert Salvatelli said he figured the library officials would have some kind of explanation for spending the money on a brunch.

"I understand what they're trying to do, and I'm sure there is a lot of good will to it in terms of people helping out the library, saving them tons of money," Salvatelli said. "But it's still awkward."

Library officials have no immediate plan to spend the money on the gathering, now that they have postponed it, Tremblay said.

Tremblay said one of the reasons for organizing the brunch was to get potential donors into the new building, show them how nice it is, and hopefully get them to give more money.

Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella, when first asked about the matter, said he didn't know library officials had planned to spend up to $2,000 on a brunch.

He agreed with Tremblay's point about using it to raise more money.

He also said it could have served as a morale booster for volunteers involved with the project, because they had "a lot of hard feelings" by the time the council finally voted to approve the additional spending.

"They were made to feel somehow or another that they did something wrong," Mazzarella said. "Maybe the trustees felt they just needed to show them some good will?"

"It's not city money," the mayor insisted during a second conversation later Thursday


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