By Josh LaBella
During a three-and-a-half-hour meeting of the City Council Monday night, the council approved a number of appointments by Mayor Nancy Rossi. But the main story was the council’s grilling of Library Director Colleen Bailie concerning the implementation of a five-year plan for the entire system.
The council voted unanimously to approve the appointments of nine people to various positions on the Board of Health, the Economic Development Commission, the Ethics commission, the Planning and Zoning Commission alternates and the Tree Commission.
During the meeting of the Finance Committee, led by 10th District councilwoman Louise Martone, Bailie presented the library’s five-year plan. She said the council withheld $25,000 from the library’s budget, but said the panel would release it to the system on the contingency it came up with a five-year plan. The library system has run in the red for several years.
“As you can see we are looking over the next five years to see the library system as a whole,” said Bailie. “The spaces that we’re using – whether it’s expanding space or consolidating space — looking at the maintenance, looking at the infrastructure, looking at where we can save and how we can best serve all the citizens of West Haven.”
Bailie said she and the board of directors are looking at every angle to find places to save money. According to her, the board voted to do a full assessment on the library system. She went on to discuss the importance of the library to the underserved and youth communities.
Twelve out of 13 councilmembers asked questions or made statements to Bailie during the hour she stood at the podium. Councilwoman Bridgette Hoskie of the 1st District asked what the library would do differently in the coming years that it hasn’t done in the past years.
“You were in the hole year after year,” said Hoskie. “Then you got a grant which made you whole. And now here we are again in the hole.”
Bailie said depending on how the current proposed budget rolls out, she is unaware of what the hours, staffing levels, or branches operating are going to be.
“If our budget is cut, there will be changes,” said Bailie. “I know that. There will be fairly drastic changes. Unfortunately, we probably are looking at closing the branches if the budget does stand the way it is.”
Hoskie recommended using interest on the library’s endowment to pay some of the outstanding debt. She said she wants to see the council given a full financial picture for the library. According to Hoskie, she had given the library recommendations for fundraising during last year’s budget meeting.
“With all due respect to you and your board, not one of those suggestions have you implemented,” said Hoskie, who later added that she works to raise money for a non-profit. “I, as a resident of this city, as a person who utilizes the library and on the City Council, I find that hard to believe.”
Hoskie said she told Bailie she was willing to spend money to get a bench built and named in honor of her brother who passed away several weeks ago, but that Bailie never replied. Therefore, she said, she is spending $1,500 to do it in the city.
“You left $1,500 of my family’s money at the table,” said Hoskie. “I’m just asking for you guys to do better.”
City Council Chairman Ron Quagliani read through the library’s budget over the past five years. In each year, other than one in which it received a state grant, it ran a deficit.
“I think there’s a story in those numbers that even back when you had additional funding several years ago,” said Quagliani, “the bottom line still didn’t work.”