NARRAGANSETT, R.I. – The state says that Narragansett doesn’t qualify for a waiver that would make it eligible to receive more than $180,000 in library funds, after the Town Council cut $400,000 from the Maury Loontjens Memorial Library’s budget.
In a Nov. 20 letter to Town Manager James Tierney, the state Chief of Library Services, Karen Mellor, rejected the town’s request for a waiver of the so-called “maintenance of effort,” which requires a municipality to fund library services at a level not less than the amount appropriated the previous year in order to qualify for state aid.
At stake is $186,191 in aid, according to the state Office of Library and Information Services.
Mellor said the town failed to give evidence that would show a waiver is needed.
Such evidence, she said, would show that there are “extenuating circumstances” that prevent fully funding the library, and that a decrease in library funding is comparable to decreases of other municipal services.
She also said proof must include a “serious consideration of what percentage of the municipal budget is represented by library services and how reducing that will help balance the overall budget” and that reductions in funding wouldn’t impair the town’s ability to meet minimum standards for public libraries.
Lastly, the municipality must show that it is committed to restoring library services cut by the reduction of funding.
“As the waiver request does not provide evidence of the above-mentioned requirements – primarily that the reduction of funding was a result of severe financial constraints for town government, and that other town departments experienced similar reductions in funding – the request for a waiver of the Maintenance of Effort requirement is denied,” Mellor wrote.
The town has 10 days from the time it received the letter to appeal the ruling to the chairman of the Library Board of Rhode Island. The board would then hear the appeal at its next regular meeting or within six weeks, whichever comes first.
The Town Council voted in June to adopt a budget with a $441,000 cut to Narragansett’s transfer of funds to its library.
State law sets eligibility requirements for aid to libraries, including that a city or town shall “appropriate from local tax revenues an amount not less than the amount appropriated the previous year from local tax revenues and expended for library operating expenses.”
In order to meet the eligibility requirement for State Aid to Libraries, Narragansett must appropriate for fiscal year 2020 an amount not less than $814,743, the amount expended in fiscal year 2019, Mellor said.
The library received state aid of $187,492 in 2019, $191,652 in 2018 and $153,079 in 2017.
The state’s decision and notice comes a week after the town filed a motion in Superior Court to dismiss a lawsuit by library supporters against the council.
The Sept. 24 lawsuit sought to stop the town’s reported $2 million sale of the Belmont/IGA building to Connecticut developer Carlos Mouta to build a European-style food market.
Mouta subsequently declined to proceed with the purchase.