Cannabis tranche will help fund library

By EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer

Published: 03-19-2023 6:28 PM

EASTHAMPTON — A supplemental appropriation of $510,000 from the city’s cannabis stabilization to Easthampton Public Library’s operational account will help keep the institution’s doors open for the next six years, according to the library’s board of directors. 

The City Council’s unanimous approval of the appropriation at Wednesday’s meeting was met with a roaring applause and whooping from those in attendance. 

“This is an extraordinarily generous amount of money for the mayor to request on the library’s behalf,” said Elizabeth Appelquist, president of the library’s board of directors. “This funding will finally be able to put us on the right road to be able to move forward with the building donation offer from Easthampton Savings Bank, as it will help us to demonstrate more financial stability.”

In January, Appelquist announced to the city’s Finance Committee that the board had received an offer from BankESB to take over a Main Street building they own — formerly occupied by Bank of America — for free. However, library leaders predicted a closure within five years without significant funding increases from the city.

Following that announcement, community members have come forward to advocate for the city to not only keep the library open, but to also increase the city’s funding allotment. 

The city provided $216,466 to the library for fiscal year 2021. The funding was 49% of the library’s operating budget. 

The library, which operates as a private nonprofit and funds the majority of its budget through an endowment, is maintaining its governance structure and still contracting with the city of Easthampton to provide library services.

The library is governed by the Public Library Association of Easthampton. The association is overseen by a group of corporators, which has a subgroup called a board of directors.

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Appelquist said that the library’s board intends to invest the funds and use roughly $100,000 of that total appropriation per year. 

She also noted that the appropriation will also help the library add more staff, make repairs and replace aging and outdated equipment, including public and staff desktop computers, and increase the amount of programs offered. Among the jobs the library is considering adding to its staff is a fundraising position that will be responsible for capital campaigns. 

“In summary, this is a great first step,” said Appelquist. “We are very grateful, but I do want to point out that we still have a need for the city to increase its appropriation and we are open and look forward to future conversations about this.”

At-Large City Councilor Owen Zaret said he was grateful for all of the thought that went into the appropriation, adding that the library is much more than a repository of books. 

“The library is much more than a repository of books. It’s a repository of connection and engagement and a lot of programs much needed by the city, today and tomorrow,” he said.

City Council Vice President Salem Derby echoed Zaret’s sentiments. Despite the length of the meeting, he said the things that the council members could accomplish were “pretty awesome.” 

Moving forward, Precinct 3 Councilor Tom Peake advocated for the formation of a committee that could help facilitate conversations with the library on how to increase the entity’s funding rather than wait until the last minute when the situation becomes dire.

Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said that her proposed budget that she will be delivering to the council will include additional money on top of the state-required minimum for library’s to maintain their certification. 

The council’s approval was especially exciting for Katya Schapiro, the library director. Schapiro said that one of the challenges with the current building’s structure is the entrance ramp, which is falling apart. 

“The library is the first space everyone comes to when they come into the city. Whether it’s a new immigrant, a new resident, someone who has had a change in life – a child or new circumstances – and we do our best to connect people to all of our resources,” she said. “We want to be more welcoming. We have a ramp that’s collapsing in on itself as opposed to a true entryway that allows all citizens in. We want to make that change.” 

The council also approved several other supplemental appropriations, including $150,000 for electricity costs at the Water Department ; $300,000 for wastewater treatment plant electricity, treatment chemical, heating and sludge disposal costs; $50,000 for contingency funds for the Cherry Street reconstruction project; $20,000 for electricity/membership costs of city’s EV and bike charging stations; $50,000 for maintenance needs at the Municipal Building and the city’s public safety complex; $125,000 for maintenance needs at three vacant schools and lodging house at 75 Oliver St.; and $30,000 for engineering construction phase services on the Union Street reconstruction project.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com. ]]>