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Funding for 2 libraries hits snag in Hopkinton

HOPKINTON — Members of the Hopkinton Town Council want to give more money to the town’s two libraries, but a major constraint imposed by the state is preventing them from doing so. The state-mandated “maintenance of effort” prohibits the town from lowering funding to the libraries in future years, regardless of possible fluctuations in municipal finances.

Council President Frank Landolfi explained that the maintenance of effort left the town with its hands tied.

“It says that you cannot give any less than you gave the prior year, so when we had our budget discussions, one of the councilors said ‘I’d like to give a little bit more because we’ve had a pretty good budget season’ and I objected to that, because once you give, you cannot take away. It’s a permanent increase.”

At the Monday council meeting, councilors and representatives from the Ashaway and Hope Valley libraries discussed ways the town could increase its funding to the two facilities. Council Vice President Sylvia Thompson did not attend the meeting.

Hopkinton contributes the lion’s share of annual funding, $60,000 each, to the Hope Valley and Ashaway libraries. The state gives each library $20,000. Council member Barbara Capalbo was outraged that the state should dictate a maintenance of effort when it contributed so much less than the town.

“The maintenance of effort is an issue, because we cannot go down,” she told the librarians. “But as far as I’m concerned, the state is determining our municipal grants, not our municipal services, but our grants that we give of our volition. Now the problem here is that the state doesn’t give you enough money. So we have all the money and they make the rules.”

The librarians suggested exploring the possibility of the town’s making a grant to a special project or program that would not fall under the maintenance of effort regulation.

Landolfi said he thought the idea was worth looking into.

“They’ve got an option that maybe we can put something into an account or earmark it to a special project that might avoid that maintenance of effort figure. ...They’re going to get back to us either to me or the [town] clerk and find out how they make out,” he said.

Councilor Scott Bill Hirst, who admitted that he spent a lot of time at the libraries, said they were “crucial” municipal institutions, especially in smaller towns like Hopkinton.

“Our public libraries, both libraries in our town are really social centers. They’re really more than a place of learning, getting books and using computers. It’s actually a social place,” he said.

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