News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, February 28, 2013
Blue Hill Public Library seeks flat funding from towns

by Rich Hewitt

The operating budget for the Blue Hill Public Library is up this year, but that will not translate into a request for additional funds from the towns that support the library.

The library will seek the same amounts as last year at town meetings in Blue Hill, Surry, Sedgwick and Penobscot. Initially, the library had included a 3 percent increase in its request, but, according to Rich Boulet, the library director, a meeting with the Blue Hill selectmen convinced library officials to amend the request to those towns.

“They made a strong argument for a flat funding request and we were persuaded,” Boulet said. “And the board agreed to amend the request.”

The library makes an annual request for funding support to the four towns. Those contributions make up about 20 percent of the library’s operating income.

“We appreciate that support,” Boulet said. “We’re grateful for their tax-based support as well as their individual generosity.”

This year the overall budget is $440,379, an increase of $21,447 or about 5 percent. The bulk of that increase comes in salaries and benefits which jumped from $281,101 last year to $305,482 this year. That increase represents an increase in health insurance costs as well as a 4 percent average wage increase for library staff.

“Our staff was really underpaid,” Boulet said. “I did a survey and our staff earned 20 percent less on average for identical positions in similar town libraries. This represents a significant raise for the public service staff at the library. We want to pay a living wage.”

The budget also saw an increase of $2,700 in the technical services line reflecting increased information technology costs.

Those increases were offset by modest savings in heating and electricity costs. Boulet noted that the library’s new pellet stove has worked out well and overall heating costs have decreased or remained stable while the price of heating oil has increased.

The donations from the towns, if all are approved, will generate a total of $86,900, the same as last year. Blue Hill contributes the lion’s share, at $73,700, Sedgwick, $3,600; Penobscot, $3,500 and Surry, $6,000.

Those numbers are not based on a formula of any kind.

“Basically, we ask them to contribute what they can,” Boulet said.

The requests are based on what the towns historically have given in the past, he said.

The 2013 budget also relies on other donations, including the annual appeal, and fundraising. That totals $152,200 this year, up from $140,200 last year. Boulet noted that the library has a part-time opening in development to help with fundraising in an effort to boost donations.

Almost half of the library’s revenue comes from its endowment and operating expenses such as fines and copying fees. This year, the budget anticipates $198,879 from those revenues, the bulk of it coming from the endowment.

The endowment, which is funded primarily through bequests made to the library, now stands at about $3.6 million. Each year, the board takes a three-year average of the total principal and then determines a percentage of that figure to allocate toward the budget. This year the percentage is 4.75 percent.

All of that revenue keeps the library operating and, according to Boulet, it has been a busy year.

While traditional use of the library—the books and magazines—has declined slightly in the past few years, digital use has increased dramatically. Downloads of digital content such as Ebooks, audio books and music reached 3,893 in 2012, still a small part of library usage but an increase of more than double the previous year. Computer use of the library computers reached 9,314 sessions plus 12,381 wireless internet sessions.

The library currently has about 7,300 card holders and issued 676 new library cards in 2012. That’s about average, according to Boulet who said the library generally issues between 600 and 800 new cards each year.

The library serves about 1,971 year-round residents in Blue Hill, 73 percent of the year-round population; 564 year-round residents in Sedgwick, 47 percent; 390 year-round residents in Surry, 27 percent; and 467 year-round residents in Penobscot, 37 percent.

The library also has a large number of summer residents who are library members.

Patron visits totaled 112,763 in 2012, which translates into an average of 373 visits each business day. Those library goers borrowed a total of 108,584 items (print, audio and video) during 2012, an average of 360 items each business day.