The Winthrop library will cut the ribbon on its newly renovated and expanded building next month, but budget cuts being considered by the Town Council would mean that the new building gets much less use.

Councilors last week voted to shave more than $26,000 off the budget requested by library officials to maintain staffing and programming levels during the upcoming 2015-16 fiscal year. Richard Fortin, director of the C.M. Bailey Library, said if the reduction stands up, it will force reductions in hours, staffing and programming.

“It is important to understand that the library budget is bare bones, and the main source of income to cover operating expenses comes from the Town Council appropriation,” Fortin wrote in an email sent last week to about 50 library volunteers, friends and users. “I am looking at reduced staffing and programming. We already rely on a large group of volunteers to supplement our staffing needs. However, we cannot rely on volunteers to run the heart of the library operation, which requires years of training and education.”

The library on June 1 will open the doors to its new annex on Bowdoin Street. The two-story addition, which includes a daylight basement on two sides, more than doubles the size of the former library from 3,300 square feet to 8,400. The existing section was retrofitted with new heating and ventilation systems.

Library trustees submitted to the councilors a $283,000 budget for the upcoming fiscal year that represented a 12 percent increase from this year’s total. Part of that increase, about $3,500, reflects a 3 percent cost-of-living increase for employees. The rest of the budget increase is being driven by operating expenses, such as heat and cleaning, that come with more than doubling the size of the library.

Councilors on May 6, by a 5-2 vote, rejected the budget proposal and instead agreed to increase by 2 percent this year’s operating budget of $252,000 to $257,000.

Town Council Chairwoman Sarah Fuller, who with Councilwoman Linda MacDonald voted against the budget cut, said she hopes funding will be restored after councilors discuss it at their next meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at the Town Office. Councilors are going through each department’s budget and looking for places to shave spending, but numbers are expected to change before the council presents a final proposal during a public hearing scheduled for early next month.

Fuller said library funding could be restored once councilors have more information.

“They didn’t fully understand that the budget that was submitted was keeping operations flat and that taking money from the budget would have drastic implications,” Fuller said. “I think once we have the opportunity to look at the numbers and have more information, that decision, I hope, will be reconsidered.”

Fortin said he hopes to bridge part of the $26,000 funding gap by having employees pay 10 percent of their health insurance, which mirrors an increase town employees have taken on. Fortin said that leaves him with $17,200 to make up just to maintain programming. Without the extra money, Fortin said his only option is to reduce spending on books and movies or programs. Fortin said cutting spending on books and movies would preclude the library from membership in the Minerva system, which allows the library to participate in inter-library loans and provides extensive support and training.

“A cut to books or movies and the domino effect of losing Minerva services would be catastrophic,” Fortin said.

The only place left to cut would be programs and staffing, Fortin said. The library has three full-time employees, including Fortin, and 40 part-time hours. That staffing is enough to have one extra person in the library for all of the 39 hours that it is open, Fortin said. To match the council’s proposed budget, Fortin said, part-time staffing would be reduced to 13 hours per week and the programs budget, which is about $3,000 per year, would be eliminated entirely.

“At that point, the programs we offer are few and far between,” Fortin said.

Fortin said the library, which already is closed Thursdays to save money, would eliminate Saturday hours beginning July 1, and hours would be reduced at least one other weekday. The new event room and meeting room would be mostly unavailable for public use except for when trustees could supervise it, Fortin said.

“Almost all of our weekly children’s programs would be eliminated,” he said. “Our outreach program to the local rehabilitation home would be eliminated. Our summer reading program would be eliminated. Our ability to partner with local organizations, including the Play Outside program, would cease.”

The budget increase shouldn’t have come as a surprise to councilors, who last year asked library officials to estimate the increase associated with the building expansion. Library trustees and engineers crunched the numbers and returned with an estimate that operating and maintaining the new building would cost an additional 10 percent. Councilors agreed to take on that increase.

“I think the estimates we were given are in line with what the proposed budget was for this year,” Fuller said.

Fortin said the trustees, over the years, have used the library’s endowment to make up shortfalls not covered by the town, such as a new roof a few years ago that cost nearly $100,000. In 2012 councilors asked every department to reduce its budget by 5 percent. The library met that goal by eliminating spending on books and movies. Fortin said trustees made the decision to cover the costs themselves. The trustees also have covered the costs of hiring fundraising professionals, equipment and unexpected costs associated with the $1 million expansion and renovation project.

“The trustees have always tried to be very fiscally conservative for what they ask for from the town,” Fortin said. “It’s a basic service budget.”

But at this point the trustees are unable to subsidize the basic operating budget without damaging the endowment, Fortin said. He said trustees must make sure there is enough in the endowment to cover repayment of a $300,000 loan taken to augment fundraising for the building renovation.

“Unfortunately, the trustees aren’t in position to cover the $26,000 in next year’s operating budget,” Fortin said.

He said the budget request would simply maintain the status quo, when ideally Fortin would like to expand the library’s hours and services.

“I thought we may be having a discussion about an increase in the budget to better utilize the building,” Fortin said. “I’d like to do more than we did in the old building.”

Fuller said she has heard from a number of community members this week who hope that town funding will be restored at least to the levels of the original request.

“From what I have heard, it’s certainly a priority for many people in town,” she said. “I know they want to see that programming continue as it has and even thrive in the future.”

Fuller said Winthrop has a strong community of readers and others who enjoy the library and its programs. Evidence of support for the library is obvious from the success of the expansion and renovation fundraiser, she said.

“I think it speaks volumes that our small community has pulled together to make this happen,” Fuller said. “It really speaks to the amount of support the library has in our community. It’s really a gem and a high-value asset for us. To build the building and not be able to take advantage of it would be a tragedy.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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