Crowd rallies in support of restoring $350K in funding to Pequot Library
Nearly 200 people turned out Saturday to demand the Representative Town Meeting restore a $350,000 town allocation to the Pequot Library cut by the Board of Finance from the budget proposed for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
But while the RTM's Republican majority came out in support of restoring money to the library at a press conference on Thursday, it still may not win the full amount.
Eric Sundman, an RTM member from District 1 at the Saturday rally at the Southport library with his wife, Jen, and 2-year-old son, Max, said the GOP caucus favors restoring the full amount cut for the library by the finance panel earlier this month. However, the RTM may also debate whether all nonprofits that are traditionally recipients of town funding should have an across-the-board cut. "All the nonprofits need, in my opinion, to be held at the same reduction level to be fair. Three hundred and fifty (thousand) is where we're starting from," he said. "I feel if nonprofits are going to take a reduction, it should be done in a very fair and equitable fashion."
Jay Lipp, another District 1 Republican RTM member at the rally, said, "The first move will be to restore full funding and, if we're going to reduce funding below that, it would be for all nonprofits, the same."
"It would be across-the-board if that's the move that's voted on. It would be for all the non-profits, not just for this one," Lipp said.
Lipp said any across-the-board reduction to the nearly 20 nonprofit organizations that receive funding from the town would be done on a percentage basis, rather than a dollar amount, since the money that the town contributes to each group varies widely.
For the full $350,000 to be restored to the Pequot Library, two-thirds of RTM members present at Monday night's meeting would have to vote in favor. Any reductions after that would require only a majority vote. Republicans control the 50-member RTM on a 28-22 split, and the full RTM is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Monday in McKinley School.
The legislative body will take up the Pequot Library funding restoration as a result of appeals filed by First Selectman Michael Tetreau, a Democrat, and Bill Russell, the chairman of Pequot Library Board of Trustees.
Chris Rippey of Fairfield, who was at Saturday's rally with his 6-year-old son, George, said they came to the rally "just to show the community support for the library in hopes of keeping the funding."
"And it's George's favorite library," Rippey added.
Rippey said Pequot Library, which is privately owned but open to the public, provides two-thirds of its annual operating budget, and that for $350,000, the town is essentially able to have a third library since the Southport library collaborates closely with the Fairfield Public Library on many programs. "It strikes me as hard to believe they would pull it when they work so hard to generate their own funds," he said. "I just think it's a good model."
Annabel Barry, 16, one of several people to address the crowd during Saturday's rally, said she had been coming to Pequot Library for as long as she could remember and that her childhood was shaped by the library's summer reading program, holiday caroling party, 4th of July bike parade and book clubs. She said the library also has helped her as a member of "Destination Imagination," an international program where teams compete in collaborative problem solving and theater arts, and National History Day, a competition where students produce in-depth research projects.
"This library is not only a historical landmark and a unique cultural center that brings together the arts, literature and the community, it is also a friendly and encouraging environment," Barry said of the library, founded in 1889. She said "reducing the argument to numbers does not adequately show all that Pequot offers to our community, nor does it demonstrate the loss we would feel if Pequot were to close."
Tetreau, who also addressed the crowd, said it wasn't fair for the Board of Finance to single out Pequot Library by totally eliminating the town's annual contribution to the library. "We believe in having a plan. We believe in coming to judgments fairly. To have Pequot singled out and to have Pequot zeroed out on one vote is not fair," he said.
Tetreau said the town had set up a committee to review how nonprofits get on the list of those receiving town funds, how they are removed and how their funding levels are determined. "For some reason, we stepped away from that plan," he said.
Six members of the Wonderland Booksavers, a group of children ages 6 to 13 who have donated about 6,000 books to local, national and international organizations, spoke in support of Pequot Library, saying their love of reading began at the 720 Pequot Ave. library and was the inspiration behind their decision to share that love of reading by donating books to New Beginnings Family Academy, a charter school in Bridgeport; a children's library in Appalachia, W.Va., and children's libraries in Haiti, Honduras and South Africa.
The Wonderland Booksavers, which was formed last August, also raised $193.07 for the library through a lemonade stand set up last Sunday near Trinity Episcopal Church on Pequot Avenue, which is diagonally across from the library, said Alison Barry, the team's manager.
Martha Lord, Pequot Library's executive director, said she was "very happy" with the turnout at Saturday's rally. "Everybody is asking me about Monday night," she said, referring to the RTM budget-restoration session. "Everybody wants to be as helpful as possible."
Russell, the board chairman, said library officials were "highly confident in the value proposition we make to this town, all of Fairfield." He pointed out the Fairfield Public Library with its two branches has a budget of $4.4 million and, in the Pequot, has a third library for an additional $350,000. "We are a tremendous deal for this town," he said.
But Russell said library officials were "still trying to get our heads around the political process we find ourselves in ... I can't say with confidence how this is going to turn out."
Margaret Murphy, a teacher at Fairfield Warde High School, said it is not accurate, as some have contended, that visitors to Pequot Library come primarily only from the town's Southport neighborhood. She said about 50 students from Warde history classes attended an author's talk on Abraham Lincoln about two years ago and that the author, Harold Holzer, provided each student with a signed copy of his book for free.
"Those kids all live on the other side of town and yet they came here," Murphy said. "They had this opportunity