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$2,000 library brunch irks council
Leominster project ran over budget
Matthew Bruun, Telegram & Gazette, November 17, 2006

LEOMINSTER— A $2,000 brunch for library officials and staff working on the expansion and renovation of the public library on West Street has infuriated members of the City Council who grudgingly approved additional borrowing to pay for cost overruns on the project.

“I’m floored,” Councilor John M. Dombrowski said yesterday after seeing the allocation in the meeting minutes of the library trustees. “It’s not a lot of money, but it’s almost mind-numbing.”

Library Director Susan T. Shelton countered that the holiday brunch will be paid for through trust funds, which have nothing to do with taxpayers’ money.

“The six-member Library Board of Trustees is appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council,” Mrs. Shelton said in a prepared statement issued yesterday afternoon. “One of their responsibilities is the oversight of library trust funds.

“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,” Mrs. Shelton said. “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,” Mrs. Shelton said. “These include the Library Feasibility Study Committee, Library Building Committee, Library Fundraising Committee, and the Friends Executive Board.

“This vote has no connection to either the taxpayer dollars supporting this project, or the money raised privately for the building’s furniture, fixtures, and equipment,” she concluded.

Mr. Dombrowski said it doesn’t matter whether the money for the party was raised from private fundraising or public appropriations for the project.

“The bottom line is, it’s outrageous,” Mr. Dombrowski said yesterday. “We could give that money to any of the athletic fields, put it toward the high school roof. It’s unbelievable.”

Councilors reluctantly supported a $1.3 million bond authorization to pay for cost overruns associated with the library project, which is expected to be completed in the spring. Several councilors have that said despite the crowds of people who attended meetings encouraging them to support the library, the vote was not popular in the community.

Mr. Dombrowski, who supported the bond authorization but expressed his displeasure with the project during deliberations, yesterday said he was offended to find $2,000 set aside for a party.

“They just came down because they were over budget and couldn’t cut anything,” he said, noting that the expanded library has granite countertops and oak trim, amenities that could have been cut without compromising the project.

Councilor David E. Rowlands said he was troubled when he saw the holiday brunch in the trustees’ meeting minutes.

“We took a fair amount of heat on this vote,” Mr. Rowlands said yesterday. “Even though it’s not a lot of money, it doesn’t send the right message to the community. It just doesn’t look good.”

Even though the trust funds do not involve tax dollars, Mr. Rowlands said library officials should recognize the sensitivity surrounding the library project.

He also said it may be premature to thank anyone.

“Before anyone says ‘thank you,’ I’d like to see it done,” he said. “Maybe the developer or the builder ought to be saying ‘thank you’ to us.”



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