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Dedham library spent money it didn’t have

By Johanna Seltz
Globe Correspondent / December 16, 2010

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Dedham’s Library Board of Trustees made an embarrassing confession last week: They never had $40,000 they thought they had to cover the Main Library staying open for 25 Sundays.

The money also was supposed to go toward hiring three library helpers, or pages, and for overtime.

As a result, the Main Library will close Sundays, starting Dec. 19, after being open for eight Sundays this fall. The Main Library already is closed on Saturdays.

(The Endicott Branch library also is closed Sundays, but is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

“We can’t add or subtract properly; I’m sorry, folks,’’ said board member Mike Chalifoux. “We were looking at money that didn’t exist. It was an error. . . . We thought we had money, and we didn’t.’’

He said the board miscalculated the amount of money it needed to pay for salaries, failing to take into account various pay raises.

Library director Patricia Lambert announced the Sunday closing in a letter posted last week on the town website, and blamed a budget shortfall.

“Simply put, the library has exhausted its funds,’’ she wrote. “My hope is that future years will find the Library better funded.’’

However, Town Administrator William Keegan made it clear at the library trustees’ meeting Monday that the budget had not changed since it was approved by Town Meeting in May. He urged the board to come up with a strategic plan for the library’s future, and offered his help.

Others at the meeting urged the board to find a way to keep the Main Library open at least for part of the weekend, suggesting a cut in hours during the week or adding volunteers to staff the building.

Lambert and the board repeatedly said they were constrained by union contract requirements, but librarian Pam Fadden, a union steward, said the union’s top priority was keeping the libraries open for the public.

“We’re not going to have a job if the public doesn’t come,’’ she said.

“I just keep hearing, ‘No, we can’t do that,’ ’’ said Gary Roberts, a librarian and frequent critic of the library board. “I’m not hearing, ‘How can we be creative so we can continue to provide this service?’ ’’

Keegan told the board that next year’s budget is unlikely to provide any relief from money constraints.

The library has a budget of $940,170 this fiscal year, a slight increase from last year’s $933,399. However, in fiscal 2008 the library’s budget was $977,219.

The library trustees asked the Finance Committee for more money to spend on Sunday hours and overtime this fiscal year; the committee was expected to take up the request yesterday.

The library also has asked for money from the Mitigation Committee, which oversees money given to the town by two major developments. That decision is expected within a month.

Johanna Seltz can be reached at seelenfam@verizon.net.