GARDINER — When the bills go out later this week to four of the communities that pay to use the Gardiner Public Library, they will be going up.

The question for the Gardiner City Council on Wednesday is by how much.

The library’s board of trustees is endorsing a 3 percent increase to what Litchfield, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner currently pay based on their use of the library, and that’s the recommendation of city staff. That’s expected to generate about $2,700 in additional revenue for the city. The total of all fees is about $95,000.

Farmingdale is the fifth town in the partnership and is currently paying a fixed introductory fee of $4,500 for 2015 and 2016 and will evaluate its membership in the third year. It will not be subject to this increase.

The issue of what partner towns pay to use Gardiner’s library has featured prominently in the city’s discussions of the review of its level of services.

Gardiner officials commissioned an analysis of the level of service offered by city departments, including the library, by Municipal Resources Inc. The consultant made a series of recommendations about staffing, hours and what the partner communities ought to pay.

For the Gardiner Public Library, the consultants recommended using a formula that relies on population rather than circulation. Based on what the partner communities are paying now, shifting to a population-based model would more than double that contribution, bringing it to about $220,000.

The proposal has prompted heated discussion at City Council meetings about the role and the value of the Gardiner Public Library.

“I know that there is a perception that Gardiner pays more than our surrounding communities for services they avail themselves of,” Gardiner Mayor Thom Harnett said at the December meeting during which the library was discussed. “In some ways, it’s a false comparison. We get value from what we pay.”

But seeking additional money from the partner communities is a delicate dance, he said.

“It’s additional money that we get without exerting any effort,” he said. “But I know that if you go to West Gardiner and say the bill is going to be $60,000, you risk losing the $33,000 we get now.”

The culprit is, at least in part, changes to the state’s revenue sharing program. Under state law, 5 percent of all income and sales taxes collected in a municipality are returned to it. But changes at the state level have cut into that amount, leaving communities to weigh whether to make cuts or raise taxes.

Even as changes in state revenue sharing pinch Gardiner, they pinch the member communities as well.

Just across the Kennebec River sits Pittston, a town of about 2,600. To prepare for its Town Meeting in March, members of the select board will meet with the budget committee, and the warrant will be prepared for voters to consider, and it will include the support for its residents to use the Gardiner Public Library.

Selectwoman Jane Hubert said library support is a large item on the budget, and town residents have supported it for a number of years.

“Pittston doesn’t have a lot of its own resources,” Hubert said. “We depend a lot on Gardiner for our cultural activities and amusements.”

If the amount requested increases dramatically, that might change, she said.

“With a public library, you are never going to make the money it could because we are giving stuff away for free,” Anne Davis, director of Library and Information Services at the Gardiner Public Library, said.

The library, she said, is the best deal in town. With a budget of nearly $380,000, the library’s share of Gardiner’s $9.2 million municipal budget is 4 percent. The building is owned by the Gardiner Library Association, which also provides about $200,000 for library expenses.

The library lends books, movies and music, offers free Internet, access to newspapers and magazines, and a place for people to come and spend the day when their homes are cold. If the library went away, she said, it would take away all that and it would have very little impact on the city’s bottom line.

“As soon as you don’t give equal access to information, you start sliding down the slope,” she said.

The City Council meets at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the council chambers at 6 Church St.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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