With “Post-Covid” Optimism, Wilton Library Association Gives BOS First Glimpse at FY2023 Budget Numbers

Outgoing Wilton Library Executive Director Elaine Tai-Lauria (lower right) made her last appearance before the Board of Selectmen at the Jan. 18 BOS meeting

Earlier this week, representatives of the Wilton Library presented Wilton’s Board of Selectmen (BOS) with a preliminary outlook on the Library’s budget for FY2023.

Wilton Library Executive Director Elaine Tai-Lauria, who will be retiring from her position at the end of January, made her final appearance before the board at Tuesday’s Jan. 18 BOS meeting. The moment did not go unrecognized, as First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice praised Tai-Lauria’s work.

“It has been a joy to work with you,” Vanderslice told Tai-Lauria. “As a former trustee of the Library, and to see what you have done during your tenure is just amazing. It has been so beneficial to the Library and the community. I applaud you on everything that you have done. Thank you on behalf of the community.”

Tai-Lauria also expressed her appreciation to the BOS.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Board of Selectmen for your support during my tenure,” she said. “I’ve greatly appreciated our collaboration, your support, and our partnership, and in so many different ways, it really is been a very gratifying experience.”

Before delving into the discussion on budget numbers, Tai-Lauria briefly reviewed what the Library’s priorities had been over the last six months, including the Library’s goals “to deliver demonstrable value to the community; to offer new initiatives that would be cost neutral [by] seeking private funding; to find new ways to deliver programs and services; to maintain a strong technology infrastructure; to collaborate with community assets; and, of course, the resumption of normal Library activities in a thoughtful and safe manner.”

Tai-Lauria reported that the Library had been in phase four of a five-part reopening plan.

“However, like the coronavirus, our phase four had its own variants,” Tai-Lauria said. “We have since had to implement phase four-A, -B, -C, -D while we wait out this pandemic. Hopefully phase five, which is back to pre-COVID operations, is on the near horizon.”

“A Year of Changes”

In his opening remarks, Rob Sanders, president of the Wilton Library Association (WLA) board of trustees, described 2022 as “a year of changes.”

Symbolic of some of the changes, Sanders noted the Jan. 18 meeting was his first meeting with the BOS in his role as WLA president, along with the WLA’s new treasurer, Mike Boswood.

Tai-Lauria also emphasized the notion of change and further elaborated on how pervasive the changes have been at the Library.

“If we had to select a theme for the last two quarters, it would be change and transition,” she said. “In the last couple of months we’ve seen changes in staffing, trustees, new town residents, our facility, technology and programs.”

Changes in personnel have been particularly challenging.

“Not unlike other business sectors and the national trends, we’re faced with several retirements, relocations [and] some resignations in pursuits of other job opportunities,” Tai-Lauria said. “We saw approximately 50% of our management team turn over, so we have a lot of people in new roles. For the rest of the staff, we also saw about a 40% turnover, so it’s been a very challenging time.”

For Tai-Lauria, the changes have come with new opportunities. 

“With change comes new ideas, new methodologies, improvements, and developments,” she said.

The Library’s most significant COVID-era accomplishment is certainly the opening of the Brubeck Collection, including the archives of legendary jazz musician and composer (and longtime Wilton resident) Dave Brubeck. Tai-Lauria said the collection has already brought many visitors from near and far away to the Library.

Tai-Lauria added that the Library has also recently begun offering online access to Consumer Reports and The New York Times for cardholders, along with implementing improvements to the Library’s fundraising database management.

“A Post-COVID Budget”

WLA treasurer Mike Boswood presented the BOS with draft numbers for a FY2023 BOS budget of $3,745,236.

“This is a post-COVID budget,” Boswood stated. “We are assuming that all the costs associated with the Library being open all the time and all the revenues that we can generate from development activities will be able to take place.”

Revenue from the Library’s development efforts is expected to increase 3.85% with a return to its usual annual appeal and fundraising events.

The revenue generated by the Library and the WLA’s fundraising do not entirely fund the Library’s operations. Each year, the Town budgets for a grant to the Library. For FY2023, the Library’s “ask” from the Town is $2,721,996, a 1.5% increase. (It should be noted, however, that last year the Library returned roughly $130,000 to the Town when it received federal PPP funding.)

The preliminary budget also reflects a 2.2% increase in expenses, with only a marginal increase (0.83%) in salaries and benefits — by far the largest line item — to roughly $2.6 million (up from $2,524,091).

Boswood assured the BOS that the Brubeck Collection is not an expense to Wilton taxpayers.

“Costs associated with accommodating the Brubeck Collection and archive have been overwhelmingly privately funded, and therefore there is no budgetary impact on the Town per se. And that will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future,” Boswood said.

Other Library expenses, such as utilities, maintenance and supplies, may appear to have sizable year-over-year increases, but in actuality reflect the return to normal operations, Boswood explained.

Selectwoman Kim Healy, who served as WLA treasurer for several years leading up to her election to the BOS, said the preliminary budget numbers “look perfectly reasonable.” The other selectmen did not specifically comment on the details of the budget.

The BOS is in the process of setting a calendar to review various departmental budgets as inputs to the BOS budget, which must be presented to the Board of Finance (BOF) no later than March 4.

Look for GOOD Morning Wilton‘s continuing coverage of the budget process which will include the full calendar of BOS, BOF and Board of Education meetings and public hearings on the proposed budgets.