ELLSWORTH, Maine — The director of Ellsworth Public Library has decided to resign and take a similar job on Mount Desert Island over ongoing uncertainty over the library budget.
For more than two years, the city-owned Ellsworth library has been under pressure from members of the elected council to either reduce its budget or raise more money from surrounding towns whose residents use the library.
Amy Wisehart, director of the library, said the city’s uncertainty over funding levels is the main reason why she has given her notice and taken a job to be the next director of Northeast Harbor Library.
“The budget challenges in Ellsworth have been significant,” Wisehart said Monday. “I don’t shy away from budget challenges, but it has taken up an inordinate amount of my time.”
The Northeast Harbor Library is a nonprofit organization, Wisehart said, and has a more significant endowment than the Ellsworth library.
Wisehart, who became Ellsworth’s director in December 2016 after having been head of the local library in Hartland, Vermont, said her last day in Ellsworth will be Friday, May 6. Her first day in Northeast Harbor will be on Monday, May 16.
Craig MacDonald, chair of the Ellsworth library’s board of trustees, and Dale Hamilton, chair of the city council, did not return requests for comment Monday about Wisehart’s pending departure.
Members of the Ellsworth City Council have been calling for a reduction in city funding for the city library since at least 2019, and have said the library and its board of trustees should find new ways to raise library revenues to reduce the burden on city taxpayers.
The library has tried to comply. In 2020, the library for the first time introduced a $25 cardholder fee for people who don’t live in Ellsworth. Last July the fee was raised to $30. Also in 2020, the city council reduced taxpayer support for the library by $134,000, which prompted the library to use $70,000 in unspent funds to offset the decrease.
The operating budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, which ends on June 30, is $648,172, of which $461,862 is funded through city property taxes — the same amount the city gave the library for its 2020-21 budget, according to Wisehart. At the same time, more people have been using the library since July of 2020, she said.
“Overall circulation increased 12 percent with higher numbers for both print and digital books,” Wisehart said. “In person visits to the library have increased by 37 percent, use of our computers here in the library has more than doubled, and technology help provided by our staff has doubled.”
The library has six full-time employees and five part-time employees, she said.
Though members of the council have not yet weighed in on how much city funding the library might receive for the 2022-23 fiscal year, signs that say “we love our library” have been cropping up in recent weeks in local yards and inside some offices at City Hall as a show of support.
The city council and the library trustees are expected to schedule a budget workshop for sometime in the next month or so, Wisehart said.
Elly Andrews, the current director of the Northeast Harbor Library, said Monday that the library there has an annual operating budget of about $450,000 and roughly 10 employees, four of whom work full time.
Andrews, who is about to turn 70 years old, said she has decided to retire. She wants more time to spend with family, and just thinks the time is right to hand the reins over to someone new.
“I’ve been here 13 years, and the director for seven,” Andrews said. “It’s time. I think Amy is the perfect person to take over.”