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Brasher attorney says branch library petitions have ‘irregularities’

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BRASHER FALLS — It appears it may be back to the drawing board for organizers of a petition drive to establish a branch library in Brasher Falls after Brasher’s attorney said there were “several irregularities” in the signatures and in the way the process had been done.

During a hearing Tuesday morning, attorney Roger A. Linden, Potsdam, queried volunteer Michele Ellis-Porcaro about the several pages of signatures, which she had signed at the bottom in the presence of a notary verifying that they were the signatures of qualified Brasher voters.

Ms. Ellis-Porcaro said under oath that there were signatures she did not personally observe but had been witnessed by other qualified Brasher residents who were also part of the signature gathering process.

For instance, she told Mr. Linden, some signatures had been obtained at the local IGA supermarket, some had been collected at LBSH Housing, some had been collected during an ice cream social and open house at the library’s proposed site and others were obtained during a local teacher conference. Those signatures had been witnessed by other qualified volunteers, she said.

Mr. Linden, however, said one of his concerns was that, in signing each page of petitions, Ms. Ellis-Porcaro was stating she had observed the individuals signing their names.

Ms. Ellis-Porcaro said placing her notarized signature on each petition rather than the person who witnessed the signing was simply a misunderstanding because they were not familiar with the petition process.

“All of these are signed by me because we were told it would not be a problem,” Ms. Ellis-Porcaro said. “As the organizers, we thought we had to have everything notarized.”

She said she had consulted with Emily Owen, a consultant from the North Country Library System, and Leslie Gardner, a marketing consultant who is working with the library on the branch library plans, before signing the petitions.

Ms. Owen, Ms. Gardner and Massena Public Library Director Elaine Dunne-Thayer were on hand for Tuesday’s hearing.

Library officials needed 80 signatures — representing 10 percent of the Brasher residents who had voted in the last gubernatorial election — to get the proposition for a branch library on the November ballot. The proposed library would be situated in Crapser Hall in the former Boothe Building in Brasher Falls.

All together, they turned in 11 pages with 130 signatures but indicated on their cover letter that 89 were residents from the town of Brasher. Some of the signatures that were collected at the IGA may not be counted because those individuals were not qualified to sign the petition, according to Ms. Ellis-Porcaro.

But Mr. Linden said they needed to address “several irregularities,” among them the fact that Ms. Ellis-Porcaro had signed at the bottom of the petitions without witnessing the actual signatures.

Town Supervisor M. James Dawson said after the hearing that the Town Council will need to determine whether it will accept any petitions.

If the board opts to pass a resolution accepting the petitions, it would request that the county Board of Elections place the proposition on the November ballot for voter consideration.

But, Mr. Dawson said, he doesn’t believe it should move in that direction given the concerns raised by its attorney.

“I think they should begin again, start fresh and make sure they’re all legitimate,” he said.

Ms. Owen, who has been working with the Massena Public Library’s Board of Trustees on the initiative, said after the hearing that they were prepared to begin anew.

“We thought it was correct. It was just a misunderstanding. The process is fairly new to everyone involved, but it’s easy to correct,” she said.

They have until early September to collect the petitions, have the Brasher Town Board accept them and request that the proposition be added to the November ballot.

The proposal, if placed on the ballot, will ask town residents to allocate $56,000 per year from the tax levy for the library.

The projected costs include $13,000 for a part-time manager’s salary and benefits. That person would be paid approximately $15.73 an hour for 15 hours a week. Other expenses include $10,000 for furniture, $12,500 for a starter collection, $3,600 for heat and lights, $5,400 for the technology and automation startup and rent at $400 a month for a five-year lease.

The cost for Brasher residents would be an additional 67 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The current tax rate in the town of Brasher, for town and highway expenses and chargebacks from the county, is $5.43 per $1,000 of assessed value, making the library levy an increase of 12.3 percent.

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