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Bridgewater pares but spares

Library, services for seniors cut, not eliminated

BRIDGEWATER - Residents will have far fewer opportunities this year to take out library materials or enjoy activities offered by the local senior center, but at least the two facilities will remain open.

Just a few weeks ago, the library and senior center were slated to completely shut down, as their budgets were targeted to help fund a $1.5 million shortfall in the current year's town budget. A special Town Meeting on Tuesday night made it official, draining both budgets to help cover what voters considered more pressing needs, such as public safety.

But a bit of last-minute budget reshuffling by trustees will keep the library open 15 hours a week, and a rally held last week by senior center supporters netted nearly $30,000 in donations that will be used to keep some senior services in place.

Council on Aging director Lorraine Carrozza said the donations will allow her to keep the center open for a pared-down schedule of about 25 hours per week. Carrozza is hoping to keep the van driver for at least 10 hours per week so seniors can be afforded at least some transportation.

Carrozza and her assistant, Elizabeth Moura, who were both slated to be laid off, will stay on, but with reduced hours, Carrozza said.

While she was excited about the donations, Carrozza was not happy that donors were essentially paying twice for town services - once through their taxes, and again by giving to the private fund-raising effort.

"Seniors pay taxes and their services should be paid for through the tax base," Carrozza said. "Right now I'm fighting for survival. We'll be at a bare-bones minimum."

Selectman Dennis Gallagher agreed, noting the town should not be reduced to fund-raising for services it should provide.

In all, 26 town employees lost their jobs at Tuesday's special Town Meeting, as voters agreed to make up the $1.5 million shortfall in the current year's budget by slashing services not related to public safety.

Ten library workers who were laid off tearfully stood up to be recognized at the meeting.

The public library will be maintained by eight part-time workers, who will keep the building open to the public about 15 hours each week.

That arrangement was made after a recalculation of closing costs showed it was more expensive to lay everybody off and pay unemployment benefits than to keep some on part-time schedules.

That minimal schedule will be enough to stop the state from penalizing the town by making it return nearly $500,000 in previously awarded grant money, said library trustee James Kirkcaldy.

But the schedule will not be enough to preserve the library's state certification and its annual $35,000 state aid payment, Kirkcaldy added.

The town's Advisory Board backed Tuesday's solution for cutting the $1.5 million from the budget.

But chairman Michael Berolini said his panel wanted to see the town develop a multi-year plan for budgeting, institute a townwide hiring freeze, and enact a policy for using one-time revenue.

Part of the yearly shortfall had been covered with revenue gained from selling a piece of land in town.

Berolini said the town should also ask the state Department of Revenue for some expert help on how it could run more efficiently.

Christine Wallgren can be reached at CLWallgren@aol.com.

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