ELLSWORTH — A forum held on an unseasonably cold Wednesday evening drew a small number of residents to the Ellsworth Public Library to discuss how the library plans on diversifying its funding model going forward.
The changes, which include charging some non-Ellsworth residents a card fee if their towns don’t fund the service fully, had been announced earlier in the year. Library officials held the forum in part to give residents a space to discuss the upcoming plans.
“It’s a pretty standard funding model in the state and throughout the country,” said library Director Amy Wisehart.
Under the new funding model, which will take effect July 1, 2020, nonresidents whose towns don’t contribute the full amount of funding requested by trustees will be charged $25 for a card, increasing to $30 the year after that.
“The focus is on the towns that don’t have their own full-service library,” Wisehart said.
Although other towns provide just 6 percent of the Ellsworth library’s budget, nonresidents make up roughly half of the library’s 4,000 active cardholders, according to previous reporting in The Ellsworth American.
The library asks surrounding towns — 18 of them in total — for money each year to help support its services based on the number of cardholders from each town (last year it was $27 per cardholder).
This year, five of the 18 towns provided no funding or sharply reduced their contribution, Wisehart said.
“It’s certainly a funding imbalance issue. We’re looking for more fairness.”
Library trustees have said they hope to change the way towns think about the yearly funding request, from donation to fee-for-service.
“Any town that provides full funding in 2020, their residents will get library cards for free,” Wisehart added.
Trustees have already voted to enact a policy change that will change the fee from a per-cardholder fee to a per-capita fee that is prorated based on how far away the town is from the library.
“The reason behind moving to a per-capita rate is not only to reflect that these are services to the entire towns but also to help stabilize what those requests are going to be so it’s easier to budget,” said Trustee Spencer Patterson King.
Ellsworth taxpayers will fund a projected $596,033 (85 percent) of the library’s $697,033 budget in fiscal year 2020, roughly $75 per capita. Outside towns are expected to contribute roughly $40,000 this year, the same as last.
Wisehart noted that several towns, including Hancock and Franklin, require signatures from residents to get on the town warrant so residents can vote on full funding.
“The Hancock select board also changed their donation policy in January to stipulate that they would recommend no more than $700 per organization,” said Wisehart in an email after the meeting, “so voters will need to vote to change the amount to our full request at town meeting.”
“Hopefully nobody has to pay for a card,” said Patterson King.
Trustee Anne Lubsy assured the gathered group that the library has been looking into establishing scholarships for low-income students.
“We’re as concerned as you are about senior citizens, children,” said Lusby “We want to turn away no one.”
The changes come as some city councilors have called into question the library’s funding model in recent months, asking if there could be a way to shift some of the cost off Ellsworth taxpayers.
Funding for the library was roughly 5.5 percent of the city’s overall $12.89-million municipal budget in 2018, not including the $11.39 million allocated for schools.
Including the School Department funding, money allocated for the library is less than 3 percent of the overall budget.
Hancock resident David Wildes attended the Nov. 13 meeting and implored his fellow residents to make their wishes to grant library funding known to town officials before the funding is voted on at town meeting.
“Each year the number of voters who show up at town meeting is smaller and smaller and smaller so you have a really small number of people who are making policy for the rest of the town,” Wildes said. “Getting library supporters out is important. You’ve got to really rally the troops.”