, Derry, New Hampshire

April 11, 2013

Reality check

Derry News

---- — Derry Town Administrator John Anderson included a very provocative proposal in his $37.1 million budget plan: Close East Derry’s beloved Taylor Library.

Why Anderson suggested closing the book on the library’s 135-year history remains a mystery. He’s not talking. He spurned residents’ attempts to get answers from him at a Town Council meeting last week.

Anderson also didn’t return reporters’ phone calls for comments or simply said he would speak at the budget hearing. Perhaps that response is understandable. The hearing is, indeed, the time and place to hash out a budget proposal. But his lack of response hasn’t made Anderson a very popular man about town.

While he’s holding his tongue, a lot of people aren’t.

Library director Linda Merrill said she was “blindsided” by Anderson’s suggestion her second home for 22 years be zero funded, rather than include the $176,612 library budget in the massive budget book councilors must wade through.

The library budget represents less than one-half of 1 percent of the proposed town budget. That’s one very tiny slice of the pie, barely a crumb of the crust.

More than half a dozen people spoke during the public comment section of the Town Council meeting last week, including Merrill. But perhaps it was 15-year-old Boy Scout Adam Burke who spoke most eloquently and for many who didn’t speak.

“Please don’t close my library,” the teen implored the councilors.

The 1,020-square-foot library on the hill is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s 25 percent of the heart of East Derry village, rubbing shoulders with the post office, the Grange and the church.

It employs seven people, two full-time, five part-time. It generates traffic for nearby small businesses — a general store, an auto shop and a hair salon.

It’s also the place 2,906 card-holders can rightly call “my library.” That’s 200 patrons more than there were in 2011.

In 2012, 213 programs drew 5,822 children through the opening in the white picket fence, past the flagpole, up the path to the familiar front door. That’s the same door Alan B. Shepard walked through many times to enter the building his uncle gave to the town.

A casual poll of Town Council members reveals there’s likely not enough support for Anderson’s proposal and it appears unlikely the door to Taylor Library will close July 1. But it is on the table, it’s in ink in Anderson’s budget and it’s a very real option.

In his budget message, Anderson said, “I believe the Derry Public Library is better positioned and able to provide the library services desired by our citizens today and in the future.”

Those are fighting words to many. Officials at Derry Public Library aren’t saying much. Undoubtedly, they’re concerned their own $1.3 million budget pass through the council’s hands unscathed.

That’s a big number, as is the $37.1 million plan with a big fat zero in the column after Taylor Library.

There are other big numbers to consider. If Anderson’s budget is accepted as proposed, the town would see a municipal tax rate of $10.48, 13 cents less than the rate allowed under the tax cap.

Then there’s another whopping figure to consider, the $81.9 million school budget voters approved last month.

The tax rate for Derry property owners now stands at $30.48 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. It’s only going to go up.

Two new town councilors, Mark Osborne and Tom Cardon, ran on platforms of limiting spending and reining in the galloping tax rate hikes. The people spoke at the polls last month.

Have a cup of coffee at MaryAnn’s, talk to a local real estate agent, ask people why they’re moving out of Derry — taxes are too high.

So, in that regard, Anderson may have a point. The tax rate won’t stop rising until town councilors make some very tough choices. Spending must be curbed.

Maybe, just maybe, he’s sparked a conversation that’s long overdue: What can Derry do without? The answer likely isn’t Taylor Library.

But the conversation needs to take place and residents concerned both about their beloved library on the hill and the outrageous tax bills they get in the mail need to tune in and speak up.

Derry has a serious spending problem and the town’s collective girth will be pinched when the belt is finally tightened. Dieting is a painful process, but the bloated budget needs some serious reduction. Just don’t shutter Taylor Library to make that point.