BELGRADE — The question of whether to have a full-time town library director will go to voters at the polls March 16, the first day of the two-day Town Meeting.

This proposal and other articles to appear on the secret ballot were the topic of a public hearing Wednesday at the Town Office.

The proposal to have a full-time library director has proven to be a divisive issue in the town.

The Belgrade Board of Selectpersons previously voted 3-2 against recommending it for passage, as did one member on the Budget Committee.

A similar proposal was shot down two years ago in a 4-1 vote by the selectmen, so it never actually made its way to the ballot.

Ernest Rice, board chairman at that time, said the town could not afford the additional $20,000 required to support the post for a year.

The town has gone through a series of part-time library directors, who are paid for 32 hours a week: 25 hours while the library is open and seven hours for administrative work.

In November 2013, Marcia Haigh, who had been in the post for 12 years, resigned to take a full-time post in New Hampshire. A month earlier, Haigh had gone to Belgrade selectmen asking them to consider making the job a full-time post with benefits. They opted against it.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Barbara Allen, a member of the Belgrade Public Library board of trustees, told selectmen, “To continue to grow, it is vital for the library position to be full-time.”

Two letters from co-chairmen of the Friends of the Belgrade Public Library, Cheryl Cook and Linda Sprague, were read aloud at the meeting and urged passage as well. That group raises about $12,000 a year to pay for the library building upkeep and utilities.

The current director, Janet Patterson, who has been on the job for three years, was at Wednesday night’s meeting.

“I usually put in 100 hours extra over the year,” said Patterson after the meeting. “There’s just so much to the job that needs to get done.

A full-time library director would increase to 30 the number of hours the library is open and allow 10 hours for administrative work.

Rice weighed in again Wednesday night, saying, “I agree that we have a fantastic library.” He then suggested that Belgrade voters should look at other towns — citing China and Readfield in particular — to compare both the library budget and hours of operation. “You can see my concern about why this should not be a full-time position,” Rice said.

Howard Holinger, the Budget Committee member who voted not to recommend passage, asked whether a fee for service had been considered.

Patterson told him, “If you charge a fee for services, you are no longer considered a public library,” she said, adding it would cost the library access to a number of services plus some financial aid.

Selectman Michael Barrett, a former library trustee, and Ernst Merckens, a current library trustee, previously voted to recommend spending the money for a full-time library director and increased hours of operation.

Another, separate article on the ballot asks whether voters want to appropriate $59,532 to support the library budget. Selectmen unanimously support that article, as did three members of the Budget Committee present for the vote.

Other articles to appear on the ballot ask if voters want to appropriate $142,052 for the Recreation Department, a total of $40,000 for four different groups working on water quality, $4,500 to support the Belgrade Lakes Region Business Groups Fourth of July fireworks, and sums of up to $2,073 for four local social services agencies.

The remaining 40 articles will be voted on at the business portion of the Town Meeting, starting at 1 p.m., March 17.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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