Library cuts are a matter of fairness

By Dale Hamilton

We understand that the proposed cuts to the city of Ellsworth library are a source of concern for some residents of Ellsworth. Many comments that we have received demonstrate that there is a lack of understanding regarding the rationale behind the proposal. As elected officials, it is important to be transparent with our opinions on issues to promote effective discussion, debate and representation of the community. This letter is intended to provide you with the facts that we have used to arrive at our opinion on library funding. We are not writing to advocate for our perspective, but rather to provide the Ellsworth taxpayers with fact-based information to use as they consider their position on this issue.

The proposal to reduce library funding is not based on the need to “balance” the city budget. There are two primary factors that have led me to our position. First, the Ellsworth Library has a per-capita operating budget of $70. Similar sized communities, including Freeport, Old Orchard Beach, Yarmouth, and Kittery, operate libraries with per-capita budgets from $32 to $59. Similar per-capita budgets exist for surrounding communities such as Belfast and Bucksport. The proposed reduction brings the per-capita cost down to $57. Second, 2,000 of the active 4,000 card holders are nonresidents. This means that the structure of the library is built to accommodate 50 percent of the patrons who are only contributing approximately 6 percent of the operating costs ($45,000 of the proposed $672,000 budget). By all accounts, the taxpayers of Ellsworth are exceedingly generous in their contribution to the Ellsworth Library.

We have been involved in discussions with the library Board of Trustees for many years. Although some gains have been made to seek non-resident support, the efforts have failed to produce significant change. We believe that the operating costs need to be shared in an equitable manner with surrounding communities. This will never happen unless we develop a clear structure and policies that require this support. This begins by establishing an annual fee for all nonresident card holders that matches the per-capita rate paid by Ellsworth taxpayers. It would be our hope that surrounding communities would support their citizens with a contribution equating to the per-capita fee. We do not find it acceptable to suggest that the current economic conditions prevent the library from implementing this change immediately for nonresidents while dismissing the same economic challenges of the Ellsworth taxpayers.

While we completely understand that structural changes will need to be made to accommodate the impact of the funding reduction, we do not believe that it will prevent the library from maintaining its status as an exceptional resource for the community. The salary cost per hour based on the current operating hours is approximately $159/hour. Based on this methodology the library would need to reduce it’s annual operating hours by 627 hours, or 12 hours per week. This does not represent a significant change and is more in line with the operating hours of other similar sized communities.

Ultimately the Ellsworth taxpayers need to decide the degree to which they fund the Ellsworth Library. We encourage every Ellsworth taxpayer to let us know your opinion on this matter. Thank you for taking the time to read our position and we look forward to reading yours.

Dale Hamilton is chairman of the Ellsworth City Council. This piece was also signed by the six other councilors, Heather Grindle, Robert Miller, Marc Blanchette, John Phillips, John Moore and Michelle Kaplan.

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