BRASHER FALLS - It appears it may be back to the drawing board for organizers of a petition drive to establish a branch library in Brasher Falls after Brashers attorney said there were several irregularities in the signatures and the way the process had been done.
During a hearing Tuesday morning, attorney Roger A. Linden, Potsdam, queried volunteer Michele Ellis-Porcaro about the several pages of signatures, which she had signed at the bottom in the presence of a notary verifying that they were the signatures of qualified Brasher voters.
Ms. Ellis-Porcaro said under oath there were signatures that she did not personally observe, but had been witnessed by other qualified Brasher residents who were also part of the signature gathering process.
For instance, she told Mr. Linden, some signatures had been obtained at the local IGA supermarket, some had been collected at LBSH Housing, some had been collected during an ice cream social and open house at the librarys proposed site and others were obtained during a local teacher conference. Those signatures had been witnessed by other qualified volunteers, she said.
Mr. Linden, however, said one of his concerns was that, in signing each page of petitions Ms. Ellis-Porcaro was stating she had observed the individuals signing their names. He went page-by-page through the petitions with Ms. Ellis-Porcaro, asking her if she had witnessed those particular signatures and if that was her notarized signature at the bottom of each page.
Did you see yourself each of those individuals sigs the petition? he asked as they went through the pages.
In some cases such as the IGA, Ms. Ellis-Porcaro said she had not.
I did not bring the petitions to the IGA, she said.
Asked if she knew if the other volunteer had witnessed those signatures, she told Mr. Linden, No, I do not.
In other cases, however, she said she had personally gone door-to-door to collect and witness signatures.
Every single one, she said.
Ms. Ellis-Porcaro said placing her notarized signature on each petition rather than the person who witnessed the signing was simply a misunderstanding because they were not familiar with the petition process.
All of these are signed by me because we were told it would not be a problem. As the organizers, we thought we had to have everything notarized, Ms. Ellis-Porcaro said.
She noted she had consulted with Emily Owen, a consultant from the North Country Library System; and Leslie Gardner, a marketing consultant who is working with the library on the branch library plans; before signing the petitions. Ms. Owen, Ms. Gardner and Massena Public Library Director Elaine Dunne-Thayer were on hand for Tuesdays hearing.
Library officials needed 80 signatures - representing 10 percent of the Brasher residents who had voted in the last gubernatorial election - to get the proposition for a branch library on the November ballot. The proposed library would be located in Crapser Hall in the former Boothe Building in downtown Brasher Falls.
All together, they turned in 11 pages with 130 signatures, but indicated on their cover letter that 89 were residents from the town of Brasher. Some of the signatures that were collected at the IGA may not be counted because those individuals were not qualified to sign the petition, according to Ms. Ellis-Porcaro.
Realizing that the IGA probably would have been thrown out, we have signatures we would like notarized and acknowledged, she said.
But Mr. Linden said they needed to address several irregularities, among them the fact that Ms. Ellis-Porcaro had signed at the bottom of the petitions without witnessing the actual signatures.
He also noted that the resolution accompanying the petitions is dated June 11, but signatures were not collected until July and August.
It says the petitions have already been submitted to the town. That could not have been, Mr. Linden said.
Town Supervisor M. James Dawson said following the hearing that the town board will need to determine if theyll accept any petitions submitted to them.
The town board has to pass a resolution stating the submitted petitions are legitimate and passed muster. We need to decide if well accept any of them or scratch them all together. These are legal documents that are sworn to, he said.
If the board opts to pass a resolution accepting the petitions, they would request that the county Board of Elections place the proposition on the November ballot for voter consideration. But, Mr. Dawson said, he doesnt believe they should move in that direction given the concerns raised by their attorney.
I think they should begin again, start fresh and make sure theyre all legitimate, he said.
Ms. Owen, who has been working with the Massena Public Librarys Board of Trustees on the initiative, said after the hearing that they were prepared to begin anew, but hoped to retain the signatures that may be declared valid since Ms. Ellis-Porcaro had personally witnessed those.
We thought it was correct. It was just a misunderstanding. The process is fairly new to everyone involved, but its easy to correct, she said.
They would need to go back to registered voters who had originally signed the petition and ask them to sign again, this time with a proper witness, she said.
People have already signed the petition. Theyre generally supportive, Ms. Owen said.
They have until early September to collect the petitions, have the Brasher Town Board accept them and request that the proposition be added to the November ballot.
Weve got a month. Weve got time, Ms. Owen said.
Board members who were present for the hearing - Mr. Dawson, William D. Demo and Margaret Burns - met in executive session with Mr. Linden following the hearing, but there was no immediate word what direction they would take regarding the petitions.
Massena Public Library officials have said plans to open a branch library were developed after a survey conducted several years ago by the Tri-Town Chamber of Commerce indicated a strong interest in having a library in Brasher. The proposed site for the branch library is in Crapser Hall on the second floor of the Boothe Building.
The proposal, if it is placed on the ballot, will ask town residents to allocate $56,000 per year from the tax levy for the library. The projected costs include $13,000 for a part-time managers salary and benefits. That person would be paid approximately $15.73 an hour for 15 hours a week. Other expenses include $10,000 for furniture, $12,500 for a starter collection, $3,600 for heat and lights, $5,400 for the technology and automation startup and rent at $400 a month for a five-year lease.
The cost for Brasher residents would be an additional 67 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The current tax rate in the town of Brasher, for town and highway expenses and chargebacks from the county, is $5.43 per $1,000 of assessed value.
But Mr. Dawson said last week that, while the survey had indicated some residents favored a library, he had heard nothing about support for the concept in the community until he was approached by representatives from the Massena Public Library and North Country Library System earlier this year.
He had noted he thought the chamber had sent out 10,000 surveys six years ago. Thirty percent of the 2,800 respondents reportedly wrote in library as something they would like to see in the Tri-Town area. There were 2,512 residents in the town of Brasher in 2010 and 2,337 in 2000, according to the census.
He also noted that, according to his calculations, the proposition, if approved would mean a 13 percent tax increase for residents to cover the librarys cost.