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Sharon / Peterborough

Divide deepens over payments to town library

Sharon voters face decision to pay significantly more to hold cards in Peterborough, or to sever ties

SHARON — In the wake of a discussion by the Sharon Select Board on ways to save costs in the town’s relationship with the Peterborough Town Library, the library has given an ultimatum. Either Sharon will pay a per capita cost for the library’s services — upping Sharon’s library budget by $3,500 — or it will not use them at all, according to a letter that will be sent to Sharon residents this week.

Several weeks ago, the Sharon Select Board was exploring an option that would allow each Sharon family to apply for a card at any library they wished. They would then be reimbursed for the expense by the town. The idea was meant to reduce costs, and also give residents the option of using other libraries, such as Keene, Jaffrey or New Ipswich, should they wish. However, the original idea would have allowed only one card reimbursement per family, meaning families would have to decide to bear the cost of purchasing an out-of-town card for spouses or children, or share a single card. And, as it turns out, it is not a plan the Peterborough Library Trustees are willing to go along with.

On Dec. 24, representatives from Sharon met with Peterborough Town Administrator Pam Brenner and members of the Peterborough Library Board of Trustees to discuss how Sharon would continue paying for Peterborough Library services. According to a letter, which will be sent to Sharon residents this week, there have been concerns expressed by Peterborough residents and the library trustees that Sharon residents are not contributing their “fair share” to support the library. According to the letter, Sharon is currently paying $68 for every resident currently holding a card. Meanwhile, Peterborough residents are paying a per capita cost of $91 through town taxes. The library is not required to issue non-resident cards at all, the letter continued.

“It was clearly stated that unless the Town of Sharon begins making contributions of a per capita basis, residents would no longer be able to access or use the Peterborough Library,” the letter reads. “...Without per capita payment, Sharon residents will not be able to purchase a non-resident card for the Peterborough Library, regardless of whether the payment is made by the individual or paid as a bulk payment by the town of Sharon.”

The new plan, which will be presented as a warrant article in Sharon in March, would switch the current model in which Sharon pays yearly for the actual number of cards owned by Sharon residents, to a per-capita flat rate. However, that flat rate is expected to be several thousand dollars more expensive than the amount Sharon paid for actual cards issued last year, according to Library Trustee Marcia Patten in an interview Friday.

During the Dec. 24 meeting, a tentative agreement was reached by the Sharon Select Board and library trustees that Sharon would put forth a warrant article requesting $10,500 in funds to pay for a rate of $30 per capita for Sharon residents to access the library. That would be a $3,500 increase over Sharon’s 2012 library budget of $7,000. That amount would increase over the next several years, until Sharon’s per capita payment is closer to the per capita amount for Peterborough. In 2015, the cost would rise to a rate of $35 per capita, or $12,250. In 2016, the rate would increase to $45 per capita or $15,800.

Patten noted that the move to a per capita system for Sharon has been proposed by residents at Town Meeting for several years, so it is not a completely new idea. It was pushed to the forefront when the trustees feared the Sharon Select Board’s plan would have an impact on the library’s funds.

“I think we’re always sensitive to what the budget is going to do to the tax rate,” said Patten about the reasons for the decision. “It wouldn’t have been a huge hit, but we were headed in the wrong direction. And it has been a long time since there was an adjustment to that $68. We thought it would be a good idea to reverse that loss of revenue. And frankly, some residents have been calling for a per capita charge, rather than per card, and we were sensitive to those criticisms as well.”

Until the plan can be discussed at Town Meeting in March, Sharon residents will still be able to obtain Peterborough library cards without paying an up-front fee, said Patten. In March, Peterborough Library will bill Sharon $17 for each card held by a Sharon resident, or a quarter of the current yearly fee. Currently, 102 Sharon residents hold memberships, which would result in a $1,734 payment. Cards will be issued for one year, and cards for children of adult cardholders will be issued at no charge.

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