COVID, turmoil affect Farmington library finances

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Farmington Community Library finances became a little more clear with budget adjustments approved Thursday.

Trustees last year approved a budget that essentially carried forward numbers from the previous year. Representatives from Plante Moran told trustees that reductions in anticipated revenues and increased costs cut a projected $338,000 budget surplus to $166,000.

Kari Shea said going fine-free, declines in revenues from copy and vending machines, bank account interest reductions, and loss of contributions from Farmington Friends of the Library affected revenues. On the flip side, Brian Camiller said, having buildings closed for several months reduced operating costs, including salaries and benefits for furloughed staff and purchases that weren’t made.

Trustees also authorized large capital projects during the closure, including elevator replacements, parking lot work, and drive-up windows. The bulk of the increase, Camiller said, lies in one-time costs for professional services.

Shea said there will likely be future amendments. Camiller said the library should, worst case scenario, break even by the end of the fiscal year.

“To not have to dip into your fund balance for the year is an accomplishment,” he said. “To put significant money back into your facilities is a very good thing.”

Friends donations down

Farmington Friends of the Library board member Mary Beth Perrot brought more troubling news. She said the group typically contributes about $100,000 toward materials and special programs during the year.

The loss of used book sales and special events has left them with at least 50 percent less in funding.

A solicitation letter sent in December is on track to bring in about 500 contributions, 200 fewer than in a typical year.

“What’s been most concerning,” she said, “is the feedback we’ve gotten with our donations from long-time Friends.”

Perrot read notes from members who said they either hesitated to donate or could not, in light of turmoil and decline in services over the last year. One writer said they were “heartsick over what has happened to this gem over the last three years and especially the last year.”

“We get correspondence, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” Perrot said. “There has been a real erosion of trust in the community.”

She presented a board letter of support for library staff, and said, “We are all in, you guys, and we want to make sure this turns around.”

Trustee Danette Duron-Willner asked Perrot what could be done to get everyone on the same page. Perrot said she would ask that question of the Friends board and return with their suggestions. She also said it would be helpful for the group to be included in the strategic plan.

Library Director Riti Grover said she would like to meet with the patrons who wrote and “find out what we can do to build trust.” Later in the meeting, she also said she’d like to hold listening sessions to hear from the community.

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