Jones Trustees Do Not See Need to Reassure Town About Funds for Expansion Project


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Report on the Meeting of the Jones Library Trustees, November 28, 2023

This meeting was held over Zoom and was NOT recorded.

Trustee Treasurer Pam Suggests Turning Funds Over to Town if Extra Borrowing Approved
With the Town Council scheduled to vote on authorizing an additional $10 million borrowing for the Jones Library expansion on December 4, Jones Library Board of Trustees Treasurer Bob Pam made a motion to begin contributing library funds to the renovation/expansion project immediately after the council approves the increased borrowing. Pam pointed out that the library holds money in several accounts that are earmarked for the project and counted in the fundraising total, but are still controlled by the Jones Library, not the Friends of the Library. These include over $115,000 in the Van Steenburg fund and two other bequests.

Pam also said that, according to the October 2022 agreement with the town, the library is supposed to transfer $2 million to the town by the end of this fiscal year, although he admitted that this is not a “contractual agreement, but a significant commitment that we are aiming for.”

Several other trustees seemed confused about the motion. Board President Austin Sarat said he thought that the Jones Library’s Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the town stated that as soon as the capital campaign raised money, it would be turned over to the town. However, at the last council meeting, comptroller Holly Drake said that the library should not turn over more funds until the borrowing for the project is approved, because the town does not want to have to give it back if the extra borrowing is defeated. Sarat asked how this motion differs from that arrangement, or if it is a reaffirmation.

Trustees Alex Lefebvre, Tammy Ely, and Lee Edwards also thought the motion was redundant. Library Director Sharon Sharry stated that as soon as the additional borrowing was approved, the money would be turned over to the town, so the motion was not necessary.

But Pam stated that at the Finance Committee meeting earlier that day, there was a recommendation to tighten up the MOA between the town and the library to assure that the library will do whatever is necessary, such as borrowing money on its own, to meet its obligations. This statement alarmed several trustees, since no trustee meeting was scheduled to take place before the December 4 council meeting when the vote to authorize the additional borrowing will take place. The trustees then gave Sarat permission to negotiate any changes in the MOA and bring them back to the rest of the trustees at a meeting to take place either December 1 or December 4. Pam’s motion was tabled until the next regular meeting.

The capital campaign reported that $17,539 was paid in October for personnel expenses for fundraising efforts. This is after $20,324 was also paid in September for personnel expenses for fundraising efforts.

Progress Made in Diversifying Collection
Jones Library Head of Technical Services Betsey Dick gave a presentation on the status of the Jones’s collection of materials that represent diverse points of view. The study, which was commenced in response to the revised development policy to emphasize diversity in 2022, was complicated because the Jones is part of the C.W. Mars regional library, so it does not have control over all the materials available to patrons. 

Materials by diverse authors or with diverse characters rose from 23.2% to 24.2% in the teens and young adult sections. Picture books also showed an increase in portraying diversity. Dicks said that those three collections are subject to more active weeding than other sections, and have less shelf space.  The least progress was in the adult fiction section, where there are more older titles. Of more than 30,000 total items added in the past five years, 28% qualified under one or more of 12 measures of diversity.

Dicks noted that the publishing industry is still dominated by white authors, who comprise 95% of recently published writers. The library has made other strides toward increasing diversity, she said, by renaming the category of “foreign films,” which is now called “world cinema,” and adding more works in world languages. In addition, the library has added works celebrating world holidays, such as Diwali, Juneteenth, Ramadan, and Lunar New Year. The Dewey Decimal system makes cataloging diverse materials difficult, she said, because it puts all non-Christian works into one category, and the  is revising these call numbers to make them easier to manage.

Library Endowment Performing as Expected
Wendy Simons of The Vanguard Group said the Jones Library endowment was valued at $7,966,183 as of the end of October. She said, although the November numbers are not finalized, all accounts increased for the month, so the endowment is now worth over $8 million, an increase of 3.17% for the year to date. She said this growth is as expected for the market. The fund is indexed to minimize risk in any one sector. The Woodbury fund is worth $688,000.

As far as the future is concerned, Simons said that Vanguard expects the central banks to continue to tighten markets so the Federal Reserve System may even lower interest rates in early 2024. She added that Vanguard expects a mild recession in mid-2024. She recommended that no changes be made in the Jones portfolio at this time.

Trustees Approve Action Plan for 2024
Trustee Tammy Ely said that the subcommittee developing an action plan for the coming year hoped to be farther along by this time, but has written a draft plan for the trustees to vote on. This draft plan is not available to the public. Pam pointed out that parts of the plan do not seem relevant if the library does not remain in the current building during the expansion project. However, Director Sharon Sharry said that the plan must be submitted to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners in the next month, “so there is no time to modify it.” Sarat explained that the plan is “aspirational” so the library need not accomplish all that is on it. Lefebvre suggested that the development of the 2026 plan be placed on an agenda earlier in the year so that there is time to make it up-to-date. 

The aspirational draft plan passed 6-0.

 No public comment time was included on the agenda and none was solicited at this meeting.

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3 thoughts on “Jones Trustees Do Not See Need to Reassure Town About Funds for Expansion Project

  1. At the Trustees meeting on December 1, they voted unanimously on the following motion:
    “Upon approval by the Town Council of the Jones Library renovation and expansion project, the Library will begin to transfer to the Town the funds derived from”… and they listed a few different bequests.

    Sharon Sharry said these funds total about $297,000.

    According to the aspirational project cash flow that was presented at the Finance Committee this week (in an effort to alleviate the justifiable concerns of Councilors Cathy Schoen and Ellisha Walker), after this $297,000 is transferred to the Town, there will still be another $1.7 million that the Trustees would be expected to transfer to the Town by the end of January 2024. By the sounds of the conversation at the 12/1 Trustees meeting, it is unfathomable that they will have $1.7 million more to transfer to the Town in just two months time. So the cash flow is already bogus and yet it will no doubt be presented next Monday as gospel.

    Another takeaway from this not-recorded Trustees meeting is that they do not plan to pay the Town the remainder of the Library’s share until July 2027. This is a full year after what was shown in the cash flow and restated by Lynn Griesemer at the Finance Committee just this week.
    Chair Austin Sarat said to the Trustees today, “The 2027 date is the date that we wanted. Getting it right [in the Memorandum Of Agreement] that [the final payment of the Library’s share] is on or after [that date] is an important thing to clarify.”

    This means the Town will have another year of short term borrowing and another year of interest as it fronts the Library’s share of the project cost. Even when pressed on this point, Griesemer would not admit to this at Finance Committee. Instead she inferred that those asking about this discrepancy just didn’t understand the difference between year and fiscal year (since July 2026 is technically fiscal year 2027). This felt like gaslighting to me.

    The cash flow that is being presented as justification for the viability of this project is so unrealistic and fantastical that taking a vote on borrowing based on that is, in my opinion, a dereliction of the Town Council’s fiduciary duty.

    I appreciate that the Trustees want to pay the Town as soon as they can, but the reality is they do not and will not have the money soon enough to mitigate the extra cost to the Town of paying for construction. Best intentions don’t pay bills. The fact is taking on this responsibility will impact many facets of Amherst Town finances, and critical projects will be canceled/delayed as a result.

  2. Once the demolition happens, there’s a nonzero chance that one of the “critical projects [that] will be canceled/delayed as a result” is the Jones Library expansion itself. Please pause and think about that….

  3. Well said, Toni Cunningham. Project cost has expanded like an elephant balloon in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Property taxes are up 4.8%. Saving face is the likely motivation for throwing good money after bad. Sometimes the rational thing to do is to fold one’s cards. Expansion is not in the cards. Meanwhile, architects and contractors are still drooling. The town should get real. The hole being dug is costing many thousands, with no end in sight.

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