Mass. Town Locks Doors on Public Library
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Residents of the rural town of Hamden, Massachusetts, are without a public library. It closed on June 30th after a proposition to raise the cap on property taxes failed. Several hundred people came out to protest the closing of the 114-year-old institution but to no avail. Charlene Scott of member station WFCR reports.
CHARLENE SCOTT reporting:
It wasn't supposed to happen in Hamden where some families have lived for three generations. The 5,100 residents take pride in their homes and families and treasure their rural lifestyle. The town has a small number of businesses that contribute to its tax base, but for the few services they have, residents depend heavily on the property tax, now set at $15.62 per thousand dollars of valuation. Last month, voters turned down a proposal to override the state's restriction on raising property taxes by more than 2 1/2 percent. When the measure failed, town officials cut back on jobs in the highway and police departments and closed the Parks and Recreation Department, the Senior center and the library. Head librarian Ellen Bump(ph) says many library patrons are in shock.
Ms. ELLEN BUMP (Librarian): It's finally hit home, and people are--I think the best word to describe it is sad. They are saddened that the quality of life in this town is diminished.
SCOTT: Hamden residents have been using their library since it opened in 1891. The one-room facility is located in the historic brick building that also houses all of the town offices. It survived two world wars and a number of bad economic times. Last year, the library served more than 27,000 visitors. Many were children who took advantage of the homework assistance program where Christina Ferman(ph) helped them master new concepts.
Ms. CHRISTINA FERMAN: And what's the remainder?
Unidentified Child: The remainder would be two.
Ms. FERMAN: Two. And it's two what? There's a fraction there.
Unidentified Child: Two-fifths.
Ms. FERMAN: Two-fifths. Excellent.
Unidentified Child: Oh, that's easy now.
Ms. FERMAN: That is.
Unidentified Child: Awesome.
SCOTT: More than 200 kids got help from the homework program.
Unidentified Child: I usually just come here and do my homework, and I just talk to my friends, but now I can't hang out here, and my mom doesn't--she gets home late. So now I have to stay home alone.
SCOTT: No one in town thinks that's a great option for a 10-year-old, but a majority of voters have made it clear that they don't want higher taxes. Keeping the library and other services would have cost the average taxpayer between 250 and $300. Some town administrators say Hamden has been hurt by cuts in state aid, which hasn't increased even though Massachusetts revenues are up after an extended period of recession, but town resident Mary Drosdowski(ph) says it's not the state's responsibility. She voted no on the property tax override for the third year in a row. She says the town is mismanaging its money.
Ms. MARY DROSDOWSKI (Hamden, Massachusetts, Resident): My husband hasn't had a raise in three years. I mean, we live within our means. They need to learn to live within their means. Budget your money proper and stop asking for overrides.
SCOTT: Drosdowski says there's no excuse for closing a library, but on June 30th, the doors were locked...
(Soundbite of door closing)
SCOTT: ...and no one knows whether they'll open again.
For NPR News, I'm Charlene Scott.
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