Selectmen, take note

The need for a new library has been discussed off and on for over thirty years. Over two decades ago a plan was developed to preserve the existing Arts and Crafts library as a stunning reading room in a new structure adjacent to Carlton Pond. The rationale was the room was too good to lose and a cost savings of over a quarter million dollars in construction cost could be realized. That failed because a number of townspeople couldn’t bear the building absent from its present location. One taxpayer at Town Meeting said the building is a gem. However, much like a walnut, the real gem is inside. Many of the projects opponents have moved, some to Maine, others to the great library in the sky where all volumes are signed firsts and there are no overdue fines.

A second plan without the Arts and Crafts building included an architectural rendition, floor plan, windows to capture heat in the winter and not in the summer, electrical wiring, ductwork, computer stations, book stack orientation, on and on. The only thing lacking was approval; the plan failed by seven votes. A new plan is going to be developed at a cost of around fifty thousand dollars, the first two cost about fifty thousand dollars each. The statement was made the mission of libraries has changed since the first two plans. That begs the unanswered question, what change? Setting that aside the existing building had to be bought and townspeople agreed to buy it at a cost of one hundred and five thousand dollars. A library handout said people move to Mont Vernon because of the buildings in town center and in addition residents can use the existing building once vacated for meetings. Perhaps. In addition, twenty five thousand dollars was provided to a fledgling Heritage Committee as seed money following comments that there is a “great deal of money out there”. It makes one wonder why seed money is needed if there is a “great deal money out there”. One wonders all the more when it is noted the money buys nothing but hope; it cannot be recalled and only the Heritage Committee may spend it.

The Budget Committee in reviewing budgetary figures found justification in some instances questionable. Accordingly, a request was made that a summary of near term expenditures be made at town meeting to inform taxpayers – this was not done. The following are not my figures, they came from the selectmen’s office and representatives presenting budgets. Notwithstanding $300,000 already spent on the McCollom Building in the last five or so years, the selectmen envision $1,000,000 in further improvements in addition to normal maintenance, $1,100,000 in refurbishment of the Town Hall, $1,000,000 in new library funding, and $500,000 in refurbishment of the existing Daland Library building (above the $105,000 just spent in acquisition). None of this was discussed at Town Meeting. So when the question was raised “What is the tax impact to home owners if the town buys the Daland Library building” the answer was pennies per thousand. That was less than candid.

None of this is intended to obviate the need for a more capable library. But Mont Vernon is not New Boston, or Milford, or Amherst. (The New Boston library was built entirely without taxpayer funds.) The preceding cost figures provide insight into the significance of what was not said by selectmen and where we are headed. When the school and town budgets are summed the best definition of Mont Vernon’s fiscal appetite is a champagne taste and a beer budget. The retinue of selectmen since Mont Vernon was cleaved from Amherst have brought us to where we are today, a town with burgeoning needs satisfied almost entirely by property tax. Something needs to be done; selectmen, take note.