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Potsdam Public Library prepares to ask taxpayers for raise

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POTSDAM — With a deficit looming, the Potsdam Public Library is preparing to ask voters to return to the polls next spring to approve a tax increase.

Prior to 2006, the library was funded by the village of Potsdam. Hoping to create a larger and more stable source of funding, the library called on voters within the Potsdam School District to approve the creation of a special taxing district. The vote passed, and ever since the library has been indepently funded, with taxpayers providing the library with $465,000 a year.

County funds supplemented the base budget, and in the last few years the Potsdam Public Library has been the recipient of two very large grants.

Now St. Lawrence County has cut off all funding for public libraries, while the Potsdam Public Library has had ever-increasing circulation. Its budget is no longer enough, according to director Patricia W. Musante

“We’re starting now with a deficit in our budget. We haven’t asked for a raise in eight years,” she said.

Although the library district is independent, it shares the same boundaries as the Potsdam School District, and its taxes are collected by the school district. If a referendum is held, all voters within the district will have a chance to decide whether they are willing to pay more to support the library.

Library officials have not yet decided how much money to ask for, although Ms. Musante said the increase would be kept relatively small.

“It won’t be an increase like last time,” she said. “We were desperate last time.”

Without the money, the library would have to cut hours, according to Ms. Musante. It is currently open 65 hours a week, including evenings and weekends.

For the past two years the library has had the highest circulation of all 64 libraries in the North Country system, ousting Watertown in 2011.

Ms. Musante said she is confident the voters will approve the increase when they head to the polls, although she expects a vocal opposition.

Despite the uncertainty, she said she would rather go to the voters rather than rely on the whims of a board.

“I like better going to the people, let them tell you what they want,” she said.

The library’s fiscal year begins July 1. Next year officials will prepare two budgets, one to be used if the increase is approved and one if it fails.

The remaining months will be spent preparing for the referendum, and letting the public know to get out to vote.

“It’s not just the yes votes, I want to hear what everybody has to say,” Ms. Musante said.

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