Without question, what is on every American’s mind is the suffering of so many from the COVID-19 pandemic. As Rhode Islanders, we are grateful for the leadership of so many of our State and local officials and all those who work so hard to keep us healthy and safe. Bravery, sacrifice and brotherly love are in full force and effect all throughout our state.
For those who may not be aware, Love your Library is a non-profit group created to advocate for the purchase and renovation of the former Belmont market property to be the new home of a modern, up-to-date library in full compliance with the American Disabilities Act.
As so beautifully described in a recent Atlantic magazine article, “Throughout our nation’s history, America’s public libraries have the led the ranks of ‘second responders’ stepping up for their communities in times of natural or manmade disasters. They are pivoting quickly to new ways of offering services to the public — the core of their mission.”
Here in Narragansett our library director and her staff through their hard work and dedication, have ramped up their efforts to serve library cardholders essentially forming a new digital community while still offering traditional library books and materials for many who lack digital access. While the doors may be physically closed, our library has opened itself wide in every virtual way possible during this pandemic.
Love your Library writes this letter as the FY2020/2021 budget is being prepared. Here we are in 2020 and no bonds have been issued. The town’s bond counsel has indicated that tax exempt bonds must be issued within 18 months of the purchase of the property. The town missed this benchmark in April 2020. So what will happen now? The actual Belmont purchase price was $2.8 million and money was taken from the town reserves to pay for it. As directed by a Town Council Resolution passed in January of 2017, the town’s finance director had the authority to advance money from the town surplus to pay for the purchase pending issuance of the bonds. However, because bonds were not issued to reimburse this advance, the town’s surplus has been reduced which could impair the town’s ability to issue bonds for other projects as well as possibly jeopardize its credit rating.
In the FY2019/2020 budget, the library opponents in the Town Council cut the library operating budget from $841,000 down to a mere $400,000—a 53 percent cut thereby surrendering $181,000 in state aid. Our library is entering the fifth year of noncompliance with the State of Rhode Island Library Minimum Standards. As the naysayers in the Town Council blocked the trustees’ plan to address building and other shortfalls, the state could now refuse to grant waivers and force the Narragansett Library out of the statewide library system.
In September of 2019, former Town Council President Susan Buonanno, Winter Hames, Laurie Kelly, Love your Library and The Friends of the Library brought a lawsuit against the Town of Narragansett to prevent the sale of the new library location. In an effort to move forward with the building process, the plaintiffs have entered into good faith settlement negotiations. These efforts have been ignored by the Town Council. Currently, we are at an impasse.
The health, safety and survival of Rhode Islanders should remain the focus of all elected officials. However, there remains a statutory requirement to pass the town’s budget. The library opponents in the council have a great deal for which to answer. Their actions have left the town with a $2.8 million hole in the budget, the loss of $181,000 in state library aid and the library still failing to meet state minimum requirements.
Love your Library stands ready to move forward with the most fiscally responsible approach: moving ahead with the former Belmont location and issuing the bonds to close the hole in the town’s budget.
As we move forward to cope with the challenges of COVID-19, we realize that life will be different. Physical distancing may become part of our new normal as we live with the goal of protecting one another. Our current library is inadequate. Physical separation among one another in the very confined, tight spaces of our current library is nearly impossible. Now, more than ever, we must proceed to build a library with space to accommodate the needs of all the residents of Narragansett, including our precious seniors, our children and those with special physical requirements.
We are knitted together in our sadness for lives lost and economic hardships that so many Rhode Islanders will endure. As Americans we commit to the belief that together we can and will recover. We ask you to share our optimism and belief in what we can build together for the people of Narragansett and never give up on the dream of a new public library!
The writer is chairwoman of the Love your Library Steering Committee.