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Branch library proposal gets tough review from Brasher supervisor

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BRASHER FALLS - Massena Public Library officials say that, based on a community survey, Brasher residents would like to see a branch library in their community.

But Brasher town officials say that, as long as it means a tax increase for residents, they can’t support the idea.

Massena Public Library Director Elaine Dunne-Thayer said they had been approached about the idea by Emily Owens, their consultant with the North Country Library System, Watertown. Ms. Owens had previously been approached by a representative from a local marketing firm who works for a realtor in Brasher and had done a town survey asking residents what they would like to see.

One of those responses was a town library.

“She was kind of floating it to Emily. Emily said from a North Country Library System standpoint, it was better off being a branch of an existing library, and we became involved,” Ms. Dunne-Thayer said.

“We’re just looking at how we can make this work. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for the Brasher community,” she said.

The proposed site would be in Crapser Hall, which she described as “a beautiful space.”

Ms. Dunne-Thayer predicted that, if it became a reality, a branch library would start out “fairly small, something like a reading room heavily dependent on donations.” Eventually they would hope to add public access computers like they have at the Massena Public Library.

“We would start small. Down the road, if the economy picks up, it could be a very nice little branch for the community. It’s just the idea that it would be a place where people could meet in groups,” she said.

It might also allow them to bring shared services such as summer reading program activities like a magician, clown or planetarium to Brasher.

“Often if they go to another site for the same day we can get a discount,” Ms. Dunne-Thayer said.

While the move would allow them to share services with the town of Brasher, Ms. Dunne-Thayer said the facility would have to be self-supporting, with local residents paying the cost.

“As a librarian, I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for that community if they would like to take that opportunity. I think the taxpayers need to review how much they’d be paying and what they would be getting for their money,” she said.

A petition process is involved in establishing a branch library though. It would need to be signed by 10 percent of the individuals who voted in the last gubernatorial election in order to be put on the ballot for public consideration.

Ms. Dunne-Thayer said, if successful, they envisioned it could be like the Canton Free Library, which has branches in Morley and Rensselaer Falls.

“It’s still very much in the discussion phase. If it is going to go ahead, it would be during the election in November. I think we would really have to make a commitment one way or the other along with Brasher,” she said. “Now more than ever library numbers are up, computer usage is up. During depressed times we need libraries more than ever.”

But Brasher Supervisor M. James Dawson said, if residents are going to see an increase in their taxes, he would rather see it for the construction of a new badly-needed town barn.

He had met this week with Ms. Dunne-Thayer and other representatives to discuss the proposal.

“They made a very nice presentation as to why the library would be good for Brasher and all the things that happened with libraries. Being a former English teacher, I certainly know the value of a library,” Mr. Dawson said.

He said they presented a worksheet with numbers he considered “conservative,” and which didn’t include costs such as heat and lights.

“They had almost $62,000 the first year to start up. According to their figures, it would be (an increase of) 81 cents per $1,000 on the tax rate. I figure closer to $1,” he said.

While they suggested it was an 18 percent increase in taxes, Mr. Dawson said his estimate was closer to 20 percent, from $4.63 per $1,000 of assessed value to $5.63 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The town supervisor said they have been trying to build a new highway garage and that was their priority if they were to raise taxes, which they’ve avoided doing to this point.

“Libraries are great. However, we have been waiting for casino gaming compact funds to come. We set aside $600,000 toward the building of a new garage. We purchased the land, we have the land, we have the idea spot for it and we’ve gone through the historic preservation thing. That is set to go. We’re just waiting on the financing,” Mr. Dawson said. “My opinion and the board’s opinion is we do not want to bond for 30 years for the balance.”

The current town garage located in Helena was purchased from the St. Lawrence Seaway for $1 in 1958, and they had to build the foundation and walls for the steel building that had served as a storage shed for the Seaway.

The building is not big enough for the highway department’s vehicles, hot air furnaces are hanging from the ceiling and some of the walls are crumbling and have needed repairs.

“It’s outlived its usefulness. It’s not a new garage would be nice; it’s a necessity,” he said. “If we’re going to raise taxes that much, then we should be bonding and paying that $60,000 a year for 30 years to construct something we need. If we have to make a choice as responsible fiscal representatives of the people of the town of Brasher, we could not in good conscience support a library over building a building that we absolutely need to run our functions.”

Mr. Dawson said he was also concerned that the town of Brasher might be asked to pay some of the health insurance and retirement costs for a part-time employee from the Massena Public Library who would staff the Brasher Falls facility.

In addition, he wondered how many residents would take advantage of the branch library because of their location. Some, he said, already use other facilities.

“I’m not sure the amount of readership that would be there. The people on the Bombay line and out toward Massena in the flats wouldn’t use it anyway. If a referendum passed, they’d be required to pay a big chunk, about a 20 percent increase in taxes,” he said.

Mr. Dawson said that, from a fiscal standpoint, local, county and state agencies, as well as schools were in trouble, meaning town officials had to watch their spending.

“We cannot sustain our present course. We are not in a fiscal culture right now to begin expanding services. Not that it’s not a great idea, but it’s not fiscally responsible. The timing is terrible because the libraries are being cut and now they want to expand,” he said.

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