FARMINGDALE — Following a petition drive, town residents will get the chance to decide whether they want to rejoin to the Gardiner Public Library at Town Meeting in June.

For the second year in a row, Farmingdale elected officials had opted not to include an article with a budget request on the Town Meeting warrant citing the cost, but a number of town residents wanted the choice to rejoin the library to rest with voters, not the board of selectmen.

A group of residents has successfully petitioned to have the article included, and residents will have the chance to vote on the proposal on June 14.

But town officials are looking at the rising costs town residents will have to pay through their property taxes. “We’re trying to save money wherever we can,” James Grant Jr., chairman of the board of selectmen, said. “The school budget is going up $180,000, and the ambulance service is going up 150 percent. We already cut $25,000 out of the highway budget, and we really didn’t have an interest in rejoining the library at $10,000 and change.”

Rather than charge fees for library cards as some libraries do, Gardiner charges a fee to partner towns that don’t have libraries of their own to allow their residents unlimited access to the library and its services. West Gardiner, Pittston, Randolph and Litchfield currently follow this arrangement, with fees that range from about $34,000 to about $15,000, depending on population and use.

The money helps defray the costs of operating the library, but not of the building itself, which is owned by the Gardiner Library Association.

More than a decade ago, Farmingdale had been a partner community but discontinued the relationship.

To encourage Farmingdale to rejoin, several years ago Gardiner officials offered Farmingdale residents access at a discounted rate of about $4,500, but when Gardiner sought a year ago to increase that rate to closer to what other towns were paying, Farmingdale officials declined to continue.

The town’s policy has been to reimburse families for the cost of joining libraries that do sell library cards, as the Hubbard Free Library in Hallowell and the Lithgow Public Library in Augusta do.

Grant said Gardiner had offered that arrangement but ended it in favor of the annual fee.

The way Grant figures it, with the 77 or 78 people who used the Gardiner Public Library, it would cost about $130 per membership under the $10,153 Gardiner officials are proposing to charge. That’s much more than the $40 to $60 other libraries charge per card, he said.

“It’s unreasonable to pay more than twice the amount for a membership than our residents could have received at another facility,” he said.

But for Rachel Choate, who was among the seven or eight people who collected enough signatures to get on the warrant, the library has a sentimental place in her heart. Her children went there, she said, and enjoyed the selection of books and the puppet theater.

But just as important, she said, is the library’s relevance in promoting literacy and the services it offers.

“You can stream movies and download books — there’s a variety of things you can do,” she said, and for free.

Erin Skehan helped Choate gather signatures.

“I have three children, and we really like going to the library,” she said.

Skehan said she grew up in Farmingdale and moved back 15 years ago. The Gardiner Public Library has been the destination for her children.

Getting petition signatures from her neighbors wasn’t a hard sell.

“It was a no-brainer, really,” she said.

Anne Davis, the director of the Gardiner Public Library and the interim city manager for Gardiner, said Farmingdale residents, particularly those who have recently moved there, regularly ask about getting library cards and are disappointed to learn they can’t.

What’s more, Davis said, the collection of the Farmingdale Historical Society is housed in the climate-controlled Archive Room at the Gardiner Public library.

“There’s really no justification to house it there,” if Farmingdale is not a partner town, she said.

Voters will get to have their say at 6 p.m. June 14. The Town Meeting has been shifted from a Saturday to a Thursday evening in hopes of attracting more voters.

Grant said the selectmen have figured the budget two different ways: one with the library payment and one without.

“If the library passes,” he said, “we will not be offering to pay for library cards at other libraries.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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