HALLOWELL — Supporters of the Hubbard Free Library showed up in force at Monday’s City Council meeting, hoping to win a promise from city elected officials for additional funding in the next two budget years.

While they didn’t leave City Hall with that promise, neither were they told no.

The discussion is expected to continue when the City Council’s Finance Committee meets at 8 a.m. on June 20.

Trustees of the private, non-profit organization’s board are asking for $33,000 in each of the next two budget years, on top of the $27,000 that city officials annually commit to help the library reach a point where its operation is sustainable.

Hallowell elected officials are nearing the end of their annual budgeting process that determines how they will spend city money in the fiscal year that starts July 1. With the goal of keeping the municipal property tax rate flat, as close to the current property tax rate of $19.70 per $1,000 of assessed valuation as possible, they are now proposing to spend a little more than $5.9 million.

As they consider the Hubbard Free Library’s request, city councilors are also weighing the cost of replacing a 30-year-old fire truck and fixing the roof at the Public Works building, for which there is no funding in the proposed spending plan.

“We’re a small city,” At-large City Councilor George Lapointe said Monday, “and there’s always needs you have to balance.”

Library officials made their pitch for additional funding at the start of the budgeted process earlier this year, but to date, the funding has not been added to the budget.

Lapointe, who is the chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, said city officials have just learned the value of the city’s property is not likely to increase, which means revenue projections from property tax are flat.

The financial bind the Hubbard Free Library board finds itself in is the result of several cascading factors, including the Great Recession a decade ago, and the economic uncertainty it spawned. People, who were mindful of their own financial well-being, stopped making donations, both to the library’s annual fund and to the endowment, which has been used to generate income to support the library. In those turbulent financial times, the endowment also took a hit. On top of that, some of that endowment has been spent trying to keep the library afloat, bringing it from a peak of nearly $800,000 to about $450,000 today.

As part of its plan to chart a way forward, the board held a well-attended community forum at the end of April, hoping to gain support and ideas.

“We learned at our community forum that the community wants more Hubbard, not less,” Ken Young, president of the library’s board of trustees, said in his comments to the City Council. “To have more Hubbard in the long term, the financial structure needs to change. It may be the old model is not sustainable.”

For more than an hour, the residents who followed Young at the podium spoke of their support of the library, which they consider to be a community resource, and the role libraries have played in their lives and their communities.

“Just as people who are considering moving look at the property tax rate, they also look at whether there’s a library,” Sharon Treat, a Hallowell resident and former state lawmaker, said.

Not all speakers endorsed the library board’s proposal. Andrew McPherson, who served as a Hallowell city councilor for more than a decade, said the second reading is no time for an organization to ask for money, and he’s concerned that he hasn’t seen any budget details from the library’s board.

He said the library needs a professional fundraiser who can identify some big donors to support its operations.

“If someone can give $2 million for the Fire Department’s fire hall,” McPherson said, “why not give some money to raise the level the of the endowment?” he said.

In March of 2017, an anonymous donor pledged $1 million and eventually more to pay for a new fire station on the Stevens Commons property.

Elected officials eventually voted to approve the second reading of the proposed expense and revenue budgets, but not before talking about what options would be open to them at this point, including perhaps providing money to hire a professional fundraiser, earmarking funds to help pay for the library’s long-term strategic plan, and urging the library board to continue to dip into the principle of its endowment for another year while some of their questions are answered.

“My concern is that they are asking for money before they have a strategic plan in place,” Lapointe said. “They have listed a variety of public-private partnerships, including them keeping the building and us taking over the operation.”

That would lead to a greater expense on the city’s part, he said.

Young said the library board has put together a strategic planning document that will continue to be developed.

City officials said if the city is partner with library, they want to see a specific role for the city and they want to be a part of determining what that will be.

Lapointe said one of the nice things about the city’s budgeting process is that it can be changed right up until the final vote, but the options for making changes are limited.

“We can’t spend more money without making cuts to something else,” he said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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