Woodstock Library trustees unanimously voted to hold a referendum for dissolution of the district during the November 6 election, but not without some statements in defense of keeping the current form of governance intact.
The board was legally required to hold the vote after a group dissatisfied with the way library business is being handled gathered enough signatures to force the referendum. Town Clerk Jackie Earley certified 703 valid signatures, though only 452 were needed.
“As someone who has studied library science, who has worked in this community for eight years, who has heard people praise our staff, our services here, and who tries to work hard to provide better library service each and every day I’m here, this hurts my heart and soul,” Director Jessica Kerr said at the August 16 meeting where the date was set. “And I don’t think that there’s reasonable suggestion that this would either immediately or in the future cause greater library services to be happening in Woodstock. But the law is what it is.”
In the language of the resolution approving the referendum, trustees defended the status quo, saying “the public library district model has been the form of organization preferred by New York State Regents for nearly 20 years.
They also stated the district, in its 28 years, has “provided high-quality library services to the residents of the Town of Woodstock through a Board of Trustees elected by and accountable to the voters of the town and funded by taxes voted upon directly by the voters of the town.”
Trustees consulted with the town, Ulster County Board of Elections and legal counsel and decided the November 6 general election would be most advantageous.
By law, the referendum must be held no less than 60 days, but no more than 90 days after enacting the resolution. That meant adding it to the September 6 library budget and trustee vote was out of the question.
The library will save money by holding it in November because it does not have to print separate ballots or hire election workers. It also provides the opportunity for as many voters as possible to decide on the referendum.
Early this year, the board voted to solicit plans for a new library on the site of the existing building and have set a goal of $5 million for cost. Trustees narrowed proposals down to three finalists, who will make their presentations at an August 25 forum at the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center.
It’s a simple Yes or No question that will appear on the ballot:
“Shall the Woodstock Public Library District be dissolved and terminated?”
The referendum supporters have argued the trustees, by approving new construction, ignored a survey in which 29 percent of the respondents favored some sort of renovation or a combination of renovation and an addition.
Trustees countered the survey was flawed and that they determined a renovation had too many unknowns and wasn’t a cost-effective option.
Those who signed the petition “were just told the board ignored the survey, which was an 11th hour attempt to get consent, which really wouldn’t pass muster,” said Tim Moore a former member of the Facilities Task Force.
Hera, a vocal opponent of the library’s plans and referendum supporter, accused the board of being misleading by not including costs for moving all materials out of the library and into the new building once it is completed.
“These are not answers I’ve heard from any of you, ever. I think they’re very serious numbers that you are ignoring, you are denying and it’s unfair to the public,” Hera said. “It’s deceptive, quite frankly.”
She favors a proposal by former task force member Joe Mangan to build an addition, then move materials into the addition in order to renovate the existing building.
“You’re in denial of what we want and we want you out,” she said.
The board has a policy of not responding directly to questions or criticisms made during the public comment period, but Building Committee Chair Jill Fisher defended trustees’ actions after the meeting.
She said keeping the library open during a renovation wouldn’t be practical, even with an addition because of noise and other factors. She also noted Mangan’s design only focused on the addition.
“Joe Mangan’s design doesn’t address any of the issues with this building,” she said, adding that bringing up moving costs was “grasping at straws.” Any moving costs will be factored into the construction budget when the board and architect reach that phase.