By Tyler Murphy
VOORHEESVILLE — A month after a record number of district voters cast ballots against a library building project, the board of trustees is still collecting information and seeking consensus about what to do next.
The Dec. 17 meeting was the board’s first since voters defeated a Nov. 13 referendum to build a $7.6 million library. Of the 1,778 votes cast, 1,446 voted against the measure and 332 voted in favor.
The project would have nearly doubled the library taxes on an assessed $200,000 home in New Scotland, from the current rate of about $252 a year to about $478 a year — $226 higher during the first year of the 20-year bond. The project also would have to raise annual operating costs by $246,750.
“So does anybody here actually know what they want to do next?” Library Director Gail Sacco asked the board during Monday’s meeting.
A few members responded inaudibly by shaking their heads followed by President Robert Kent responding, “I don’t.”
At Monday’s meeting, former library trustee and building committee member Dick Ramsey sat with the board in discussing the vote.
He pointed out that double the number of voters came out for the library’s referendum then the latest school budget vote, something he said never happened before.
“You don’t get this many people to turn out for this kind of vote unless someone did something. I had several people in front of me voting for the first time,” said Ramsey, adding that efforts by organized groups opposed to the vote had succeeded in influencing participation.
“I don’t think it was just an organized effort. I think there was overwhelming consensus on: ‘We don’t want anymore taxes,’” said Trustee Janna Shillinglaw. Like several others on the board Shillinglaw mentioned tough economic times were partly to blame for the referendum’s resounding defeat.
“People have no control over a lot of things, like gas prices, but they do have control over a building project,” she said.
Sacco said the project was defeated because of the “economy and the lack of knowledge.” She went on, “The idea that people think of the library as a building for books; they don’t think of eReaders or librarians that have masters degrees, or about our data bases, or the morning program for preschoolers or the grants we get, or the homebound program for people confined in their house for long periods of time, or our gallery space. They don’t know what’s here.”
The director said she had received a number of notes from residents saying “the reason was the money, not the design or the lack of understanding.”
“You have a hard time making the connection for people who don’t use the library,” said Trustee Stella Suib, agreeing the role of the library has expanded beyond book collections.
Suib said the library was a “community hub,” especially for schoolchildren and the elderly who don’t always have technology or other resources at home.
The defeated project would have purchased new property along the Altamont–Voorheesville Road (Route 156), across the street from the Voorheesville firehouse and elementary school. The proposal would have doubled the current library space to 19,000 square feet, though the room for book collection would have increased by only about 10 percent, leaving the remaining area available for more technology and programs.
“That’s the thing about it, it’s about the kids and the future. If you get it right the first time, it’s right for the future,” added Ramsey, saying the library proposal was designed to grow with the town. He said the areas around New Scotland had seen rapid and large-scale development and believes it’s only a matter of time before the town begins to experience the same.
“The town of New Scotland is not going to stay 10,000 people 10 miles from Albany,” he said.
As board president, Kent made few remarks about the defeated project during the discussion but urged members to heed public feedback.
“We developed an open and honest process. We gave the community an opportunity to get informed, if they wanted to or not, and they voted — they voted no. This is a democracy this is how it’s suppose to work and now we need to move on,” said Kent.
The board decided to wait for the final results of a feedback survey to be finished before making any decisions. Sacco said the library had contacted a number of volunteers and others in an effort to understand people’s individual feelings on the failed project and gain a better grasp of public expectations.
Kent told board members there is still time to contact additional residents to participate in the survey.
“We need samples to help our reality check,” said Kent.
“We need time to think about this. It’s been a long process and needs considerable consideration,” added Trustee Rita Stein.
Initial planning discussion for the defeated project began in 2005, said Kent.
The board agreed to retract a $1,000 hold on the parcel of land where the proposed project was to be built. The money will be returned to the library, said Sacco, and the property will go up for sale.
The library is still eligible for the next three years, to receive a $51,000 state grant awarded for the purchase of property. “It’s there until the board has a better idea on how it wants to move forward,” said Sacco.
Library officials said demand for services had been growing and the current structure, built in 1989, was unable to expand or keep up with changing technology.
Trustee Rebecca Pahl told the public at a previous meeting the board had resisted investing too much in the old building over the last few years because it was preparing for the new project. She said the current building, assessed at $645,000, needed a million dollars worth of repairs, which includes replacing the roof.
Pending needs at the current library were not discussed at the meeting but Sacco told The Enterprise more details on how the board would address those concerns would be developed over the next three months as it prepares next year’s budget. She said the building had been maintained well but a few looming projects could have considerable expenses, such as a roof repair.
“It all depends on how the board decides to proceed,” she said.
She added, “I think board members are community residents who care about the library and about community they live in. They are being very thoughtful and careful about moving forward and making sure they are hearing what the public has said.”