City Council hears budget plea for library funds

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Dorchester Banner/Gloria Rojas
Patrons at the library are looking forward to city funding to help maintain services.

CAMBRIDGE — Monday night was the last opportunity for the public and any organizations who wanted a bite out of Cambridge’s proposed 2017 budget pie to stand up and ask. One taker stood up in the public hearing, Frances Cresswell, director of Dorchester County’s Public Library, which has taken no money for years. She was asking for a small sum to better service Cambridge residents. The library is funded by the county, but for years, the city contributed a small amount.

Frances Cresswell had some startling figures to share: Back in 1982, Cambridge contributed $4,000, not a great sum but a help in buying new books. The sum grew in some years, declined in others, never exceeding $12,000. Times got bad and from 2010 to the present day, the library has been given zero dollars. Hurlock gives the library a little something, but Cambridge has given nothing.

Director Cresswell had only five minutes to explain what the library gives us, so she could not read her whole list. She did poll the meeting attendees about library membership and it was almost 100%. Commissioners and public were certainly sympathetic. Even I jumped up and threw in my two cents …the library makes available to readers in this small city books from all over the country. It’s helpful staff bends over backwards to help little children, serious students, and even intellectual dilettantes. Every time you read a biography of someone who started out with few resources and became a leader, the public library has played a part. Commissioners seemed eager to remedy the budget status of the library and they asked City Manager Sandra Tripp Jones to find $5,000 for this fine investment.

Items on the Consent Calendar were approved, with noise variances for the Rescue Fire Company’s Seafood Feast-I-Val at Sailwinds on Aug. 13 from 1 to 6 p.m. The Hyatt will hold permitted skeet shooting events on May 24, June 10 and June 16. Other previously approved events that were postponed by rain were re-approved with new dates.

In new business, Commissioners adopted the following goals for 2017:
Strengthen financial health of the city
Address housing blight
Promote economic development
Advance Sailwinds development project
Reduce crime.

The commissioners have worked on some plans to accomplish these goals but would overspend a budget allotment. Staff has devised a table of expenditures for implementation of goals, like demolishing condemned houses, avoiding decline of real estate, and wharf repair at Sailwinds­ — which costs $2 million. The city has a credit line it could use, but staff suggests looking for grants as a way of reducing the amount to be borrowed. A long list of costly actions could be helped by cooperation with the county and raising some fees.

Some new money may be coming to the city from Water Services fees. For many years, the turn on/turn off fee has been $15. City Manager Tripp-Jones says the cost of an employee going out to turn off water and then make a second trip to turn it back on far exceeds the real cost. An increase to $50 will bring Cambridge into line with other municipalities.

The implementation of a plan for the Sailwinds Development has a long history accompanied by a great deal of controversy. City Manager Sandra Tripp Jones presented a plan with a different approach. A separate story next week will explain her suggested approach, which is tied to economic development.

The subject of a five year capital plan was part of the new council business. Right now, the plan would concern guidelines, and later, budget lines. The City Manager explained that priorities in a five year plan start out with mandatory items — items decreed by law. And second to that, matters of public safety that cannot reasonably be postponed. Then come purchases, replacements, and long term visions.

In the audience were several candidates for the offices of Commissioner who have long term visions of their own — to sit at the elevated seats of the present council and help make the critical choices that were discussed this night.

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