Orono library cuts spark debate over town budget

Posted June 02, 2009, at 11:26 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Except for some concern over reductions at the town library, town councilors encountered little public opposition Monday night as Town Manager Cathy Conlow presented the municipal budget, which includes $7.6 million in expenditures, for the coming fiscal year.

The budget represents an increase of less than 1 percent, or $70,000, over last year. The town itself is not asking for new taxes, Conlow said, but the increase represents a $17 million loss in valuation. Orono is losing $9 million due to the Housing Foundation’s application for tax-exempt status.

The town also is seeing a $250,000 reduction in state aid to municipalities.

Budget decreases include reductions in cost-of-living adjustments, the elimination of a staff position in the library — that person was moved to a vacant position in the public safety department — and a decrease in the library’s hours of operation.

Four residents spoke against the reduction in library staffing and hours. Mick Peterson said the town should look at departments with large budgets such as Public Works before cutting areas such as the library.

“When we see some benchmarking of Public Works, then it’s time to say, OK, maybe we can’t afford the library,” he said. “But until we see this benchmarked throughout the budget, what you’re doing is cutting the things that people see, respect and enjoy.”

Positions have been lost all over the town in recent years, Conlow said.

“[The reductions were] not done for maximum shock value,” she added. “Some [positions] mean more but everyone has strong feelings about a position somewhere.”

Conlow said after the meeting the new library hours have not yet been made final.

The Town Council likely will vote on the budget at the end of the month.

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