A man sits in sunlight streaming through a window overlooking the Union River in the Ellsworth Public Library in this 2019 file photo. Credit: BDN file photo

Ellsworth city councilors have given the local library some breathing room for the coming year, fully reversing a proposal to slash $100,000 from its budget while the library tries to boost revenue from surrounding towns whose residents use the library.

In a revised agreement, the Ellsworth City Council on Monday agreed to fund the city-owned library’s annual operating budget at $561,872, the full amount the library’s trustees had requested.

But the council stuck by its goal of reducing the library’s financial burden on local property taxpayers by $100,000. The city will fund $461,872 of the library’s 2020-2021 budget through property taxes, and will provide the library with an additional $100,000 that had already been raised for the library in prior years but not spent.

The city also has agreed to form a task force of library trustees, council members, and citizens to explore ways to boost library revenue from alternate sources, according to Amy Wisehart, the library’s director. Given the likelihood the council will want to reduce city funding for the library by $100,000 again next year, Wisehart said, the library will have to do more than appeal to surrounding towns.

The library currently raises approximately $40,000 in subsidies from 18 surrounding towns, and another $13,000 from fundraising appeals.

“I’m grateful that city council has restored full funding for this year, which will allow us to retain our staffing, hours and services as we work toward more sustainable funding,” Wisehart said, adding that the library’s services will be “needed more than ever” during the 2020-2021 year due to the ongoing COVID-19 economic downturn.

For the past several years, the council has been telling the library it needs to get residents of surrounding towns to contribute more money to fund the library’s operations. The burden on city residents for funding the library, which also serves the residents of 18 surrounding towns, is too great, the council maintains, and the library needs to raise more money from those towns.

The library had taken steps to start raising funds directly from non-Ellsworth residents by establishing a fee schedule for people from surrounding towns who get library cards. Currently, the library does not charge anyone for cards, and last year it stopped charging overdue fees for books or other checked-out materials.

The new card fee schedule was going to take effect this month, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused the library to shut down temporarily, delaying those plans. The library now plans to implement the new fee schedule this fall.

Last month, after library trustees proposed a budget that included a $34,161 cut, the city council indicated it wanted a steeper cut and reduced the proposed funding level by an additional $100,000.

Since then, the council and trustees discussed a possible compromise in which the city would use $70,000 in unspent funds for the library’s operations and the library would cut an additional $30,000 from its proposed budget, in order to reduce taxpayer support for the budget by $100,000.

Dale Hamilton, chairman of the council, said Monday that after looking into possible additional cuts, the library trustees said they would not be able to do that without cutting staffing. Library officials have said they want more time to try to increase funding from surrounding towns before they reduce staffing or hours.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....