Assembly approves pay cut for next library director

The borough has cut the salary of the Irene Ingle Public Library’s head librarian as it seeks to replace outgoing Library Director Margaret Villarma.

At its May 23 meeting, the assembly voted to reduce the position’s salary by roughly $10,000 a year, depending on where the employee falls on the pay scale. The change will make the library director Wrangell’s lowest paid department head.

The job’s duties, responsibilities and qualifications have not changed — only the compensation. Villarma plans to retire this summer and though the pay cut will not affect her, it will affect her successor.

“The vacancy in this position allows the (borough) … to appropriately update the duties and responsibilities of the library director,” Borough Manager Jeff Good wrote in a proposal to the assembly. “Administration has reviewed the job description for the library director and believes the rate of pay should be adjusted to more accurately meet the demands of the position.”

Since the library is open fewer hours than the Nolan Center and since its director manages fewer temporary workers, Good suggested that the position’s pay grade should be below the Nolan Center director’s.

Mayor Patty Gilbert and Assembly Member Ryan Howe voted against the pay cut; the remaining assembly members supported it.

“In my mind, in the budget process, (the library) has always been taking hits,” said Gilbert. “I mean, heavens to Betsy, we denied them carpet for a couple of years.”

Assembly Member David Powell suggested that other assembly members should not question the borough manager’s guidance on the matter.

“I look at us approving or disapproving what our (borough) manager has done and what we have asked him to do,” he said. “It’s his job to come back to us with recommendations … because he’s the guy on the ground. So for us, I have a problem for us to go against what we pay our (borough) manager to do.”

Former school district librarian Bonnie Demerjian urged the assembly to oppose decreasing the librarian salary. “Diminishing the position will make it difficult to attract the expertise that a public library demands,” she said. “Strong communities such as Wrangell want and need the public services that a public library provides.”

The library has 602 active hard holders — almost a third of the town’s population — and saw 16,000 visits last year.

In an interview following the meeting, Good said he would address any potential staffing issues caused by the pay cut as they arose. “That’s always a concern,” he said of the library’s ability to attract a quality director. “I think we’ll just have to see what response we get and just go from there.”

Demerjian also highlighted the benefits that the library brings to the community. The institution promotes literacy and improves quality of life, she said, and devaluing the position will decrease the library’s ability to provide these services.

“The (borough) has had no difficulty in funding several new (borough) positions this year,” she added. “I ask the council to think hard about devaluing one of Wrangell’s most welcoming, enduring and cherished institutions.”

Construction manager, comptroller and marketing and community development coordinator positions have been added to the budget in the past year.

Current assistant librarian Sarah Scambler also wrote a letter expressing her concern. “As a potential candidate for the library director position, as well as my experience working closely with the current director for the last 7 years, I am keenly aware of the challenges and responsibilities that come with the role,” she wrote.

“Investing in a qualified and dedicated library director is essential for the success of the library and the community it serves,” she concluded.


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