Towns outside of the city are going to pay a little differently for their residents to use the Gardiner Public Library.

Gardiner councilors have approved a fee schedule proposed by the library’s Board of Trustees for the upcoming budget year, based on a new formula.

Pauly Tarbox selects a book Monday at the Gardiner Public Library. Gardiner officials proposed a new library fee schedule for partner communities based on the number of residents in each town. This comes after several years of concern by partner towns that the fees were too high and not predictable.

Going forward, towns will be billed on a per capita basis. For towns located in the Gardiner-area school district — Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner — the charge will be $10 per capita. According to the latest census figures, Pittston has 2,666 residents and would pay $26,660, while Randolph (1,772 residents) would pay $17,720 and West Gardiner (3,474) would pay $34,740. For Farmingdale and Litchfield, the cost would be $7.50 per resident; for Farmingdale, with 2,956 residents, the cost would be $22,170, and Litchfield would pay $27,180 for its 3,624 residents.

For most towns, the change will increase the amount currently being paid for library usage. Farmingdale would see the biggest increase, up $11,865 from its current contribution of $10,305. Litchfield would increase $6,285 from $20,895; Pittston would increase $2,782 from $23,878; Randolph would increase by $2,575 from $15,145. West Gardiner would be the sole town to see a decreased contribution, down $529 from its current $35,269.

To ease the transition for the towns, Gardiner Library Director Anne Davis recommended phasing in the new structure over four years, and Gardiner elected officials agreed. That means each town would see just a quarter of that increase added to their contribution levels in each of the next four years. For example, Farmingdale would see its contribution increase by $2,966 annually over the next four years to bring it from its current $10,305 to its eventual $22,170.

The Gardiner Public Library is a department of city government. But the building is owned by the nonprofit Gardiner Library Association, which also pays for facility improvements and more than half of the materials the library buys each year.

While some libraries in Maine sell individual cards to nonresidents, the Gardiner Public Library charges a fee to partner towns for their residents to use the library and its services. It imposes no restrictions on the number of cards issued to residents in its partner communities, and they get the same access to the library’s services and collections as people who live in Gardiner. The fees reflect the cost of running the library, and they were based on the population served.

Now, it’s up to the towns to decide whether they will pay it. Selectmen and budget committees in several of those towns are now crafting their spending plans for the upcoming fiscal year that residents will be asked to vote for at Town Meetings in March.

“It’s good to have a formula to see where everything comes from,” Greg Couture, chairman of the West Gardiner Board of Selectmen. “It’s understandable that way.”

Residents of West Gardiner, which has a March Town Meeting, have generally made good use of the library and its resources, and its bill is usually the highest. Using the per capita formula is expected to bring that down slightly in the short term.

Pittston also has a March Town Meeting.

Three years ago, residents debated the merits of paying the library fee for more than an hour but finally approved it.

Roger Linton, chairman of the Pittston Board of Selectmen, said he expects residents will have some questions about the change. He said he hasn’t had time to review the proposal in detail yet, but he’ll look it over carefully.

People walk by the Gardiner Public Library on Monday. Gardiner officials proposed a new library fee schedule for partner communities based on the number of residents in each town. This comes after several years of concern by partner towns that the fees were too high and not predictable.

“We have joined most of the activities in Gardiner,” Linton said, including the Gardiner Ambulance and the Boys & Girls Club of the Kennebec Valley. “But times are getting tighter.”

For several years the library board, whose membership includes residents of partner communities, has been considering changing how it charges neighboring towns for the use of the library and its resources.

“We stopped being able to base it on circulation,” Davis said.

While the library circulates books as it has always done, its offerings have expanded to include e-book and movie downloads, which are hard to measure.

At the end of 2016, an ad hoc committee that had been studying how libraries across the state charge neighboring communities for their use completed its evaluation. While it brought back several recommendations, members did not propose a specific formula.

Not long after, Davis was tapped to serve as interim city manager. That appointment continued until August 2018.

“I have tried to keep the charges to a point where we don’t lose a town,” she said. “If we do, we can’t look to the other towns to make up the difference. We have to look at what is fair for Gardiner and what is palatable for the partner communities.”

The fees have not always been palatable.

More than a decade ago, Farmingdale withdrew from the partnership. In a bid to encourage them to rejoin, Gardiner officials authorized a re-introductory rate of $4,500 a year for three years in 2014 for its neighbor to the north. At the end of that time, Farmingdale opted not join the partnership at the price that Gardiner requested — $10,153. Instead, it offered to reimburse families in town for cards in Hallowell or Augusta.

As a result, Farmingdale residents were not allowed to use the library’s services or to buy a card; Gardiner policy prohibits selling cards to residents of towns that have left the partnership for five years.

Last year, when Farmingdale selectmen opted not to put the question of rejoining the library to voters, residents successfully petitioned to have the question added to the Town Meeting warrant, and voters approved the measure.

Davis said the towns had been responsive to the 1 percent increase they saw last year.

“This is not so much different,” she said. “I hope it will be absorbed without too much consternation.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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