Woodstock Library election September 3

woodstock library VRTAfter a contentious year, with battles over the proposed annex at the site of a former laundromat and the conditions at the existing building, Woodstock Library district voters will decide on Thursday, September 3 whether to approve a $627,868.96 budget and will choose among five candidates vying for four positions on the Board of Trustees.

What follows is a brief summary of each candidate’s background and why they chose to seek a seat. Candidates are listed in alphabetical order.

Katryna Barber, an incumbent on the board, grew up in Seattle, Wash., and moved to Woodstock in 2002. A former substitute teacher in the Onteora school district, she is now a landscaper and housekeeper.

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Barber says she looks forward to working with a new director on the library expansion and improved communication with the public. “Mostly I’d like to see this whole public interaction process be more civil. I think it’s a problem throughout Woodstock,” Barber said.

Having served on the board through tight fiscal times, Barber thinks the library needs to build its cash reserves in case of an emergency. Resignations of former Director Amy Raff and staff technician Thomas Whigham meant the library had to pay out unused vacation and sick time that had accrued over several years.

Barber said she remembers a time not long ago when the only people in the audience at board meetings were those thinking of running for the board. She is encouraged by all the attention to the library over the past year, but hopes it can be more constructive.

“It’s the only true democracy that we still have in the United States,” Barber said of

George Finsrud has lived in Woodstock on and off since he was a child. A sculptor, he was educated at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

He has worked on several public projects including a viewing pavilion at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and locally, a bench on the Village Green dedicated to activist Jane VanDeBogart and the waterfall pocket park on Tannery Brook Road.

Finsrud said his experience with sculptures and building can be an asset to the library, which has had a series of expansions over the years. He was recently appointed to the library Outreach Committee.

“The front is very cute, but walking around, you can see there’s a history of inherited dysfunction,” he said of the library. Various needs prompted leaders to build additions, but there was no continuity, he explained. “The roof plane is right out of some Greek fishing village,” he said.

Finsrud thinks buying the laundromat was a wise decision, but he’s not so sure about building an annex on the site. “It doesn’t mean we can’t have a nice WiFi garden,” he said. Plus, the site can be used as a staging area for construction on the main library property.

Jill Fisher is co-owner of Neil Larson & Associates, a Woodstock consulting business specializing in historic preservation and planning. She has been semi-retired from her role as principal planner at the firm since November 2014.

Fisher was appointed to the board in June to fill the seat left vacant when trustee Geoffrey Hanowitz resigned. She also was appointed to the Outreach Committee this spring.

Fisher received a Master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Wisconsin and has held various city planning positions, mostly in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Fisher has lived in Woodstock since 2000. After being dissatisfied with the prospect of commuting to Albany or larger communities for work, Fisher established Neil Larson & Associates in 2001. She also served as chair of the town’s Commission for Civic Design from 2001 through 2003.

She hopes to use her planning experience to bring the library into the future in a responsible way, asking the right questions of architects who bring their expansion proposals to the board. “I was a library user from a young age and it made such a difference to me,” Fisher said.

In addition to her experience, Fisher hopes to involve the public to make sure any expansion gets widespread support. “Critics are not to be discounted,” she said.

Selma L. Kaplan has lived in Woodstock for 18 years. She has had a long career at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, where she now serves as a senior advisor and liaison to the board of directors. Kaplan said she hopes to put her experience in public radio, particularly in compliance and transparency, to good use by engaging the library users and general public. This is Kaplan’s first run for the library board.

“I was commuting to Albany every day, so I never really got into the Woodstock population. So I wanted to do something where I could contribute,” Kaplan said. “I spent my youth in the library. I just thought it would be a nice way of giving back to the town.”

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Kaplan said any capital project, such as expansion contemplated by the board, needs library users and the general public behind it in order to succeed. “If you get the public behind you, they’ll always come through,” she said.

John A. Ludwig received a Masters degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan and has been a Woodstock resident since 1978. He worked for IBM in the town of Ulster. Ludwig served on the town Planning Board from 1982 through 1994, with the last three years as chairman. He is running for the library board for the first time.

Ludwig began attending library board meetings in January 2014 after being disappointed in what he perceived as a lack of transparency with the plans for an annex on the laundromat property. “I felt I should get involved. I don’t have any preconceived notion of what to do with the expansion,” Ludwig said. “I want to be part of a group that’s actually listening to the community.”

Ludwig said he watched more than 1000 people vote against a proposed expansion and defeat the budget in 2007 because the library did not involve the community in the planning. “I was watching to see what was going to happen and the annex came along. Again, I felt they didn’t involve the community and didn’t take care of the existing library building.”

Ludwig joined the library Outreach Committee recently to try and foster more open and transparent dialogue with the public.

 

The budget

The spending plan includes a tax levy of $549,187.96, an increase of 2 percent. That means the homeowner with the average assessed property value of $282,000 will pay $115.79, an increase of $2.27.

Spending will increase by 6.89 percent and includes the addition of a part-time page to help bring the library back to full staff levels. It also includes a 3 percent raise for staff who have worked a year or more. Interim Director Jessica Kerr recently noted recent raises have not kept up with the Consumer Price Index, which is often used as a guide to setting wages. The overall average pay is around $18 an hour and $14 for those without Master’s degrees.

Staffing has remained constant since 2010 while library usage continues to rise.

The budget “only maintains library service as it is,” but trustees were wary of increasing taxes more than 2 percent.

Voting is open to all registered voters in the town of Woodstock September 3 from noon until 9 p.m. in the library. Absentee ballots are available at the library. More information, including detailed breakdowns of the budget and explanations of the new page position and wage increases are available at woodstock.org/vote.

 

Balancing the current budget

To balance the library’s checkbook, the board voted August 20 to amend the 2015 budget to help balance the books after payouts caused by Raff’s and Whigham’s unexpected departure. Those payouts caused a $41,973 deficit in cash flow and trustees had to pull money from one reserve set aside for such compensation and another reserve that is unassigned.

Kerr is still researching the use of heat pumps to replace in aging heating and air conditioning system and how deal with an underground stream through the crawl space that promotes mold growth, two issues that could further deplete the library’s cash reserves.