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Ellsworth community speaks up against major proposed budget cut to public library

At their final budget workshop in June, Ellsworth city councilors voted to make a $100,000 cut to the budget for the city's public library.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — The community is pushing back after the Ellsworth City Council proposed major budget cuts to the city's public library.

At their final budget workshop in June, city councilors voted to make a $100,000 cut to funding for the Ellsworth Public Library. They are meeting Thursday, July 9 at 6 p.m. to discuss this decision -- and library advocates hope they will reconsider.

"I’ve been coming to the public library as long as I’ve lived here," said Lilja Hanson, a rising senior at Ellsworth High School. She relayed memories to NEWS CENTER Maine, detailing afternoons after school spent in programs at the library. She says it has been a staple to her and a lot of the people she knows. 

"The library just cultivates such growth and such a love for books and for the community," Hanson expressed. "Not only is it centrally located -- it’s a keystone of our community."

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The $100,000 proposed cut was relatively shocking to Hanson and Amy Wisehart, the director of the Ellsworth Public Library. Wisehart says she was "surprised" by the amount, telling NEWS CENTER Maine it represents a 15 percent total reduction. She added that it follows a five percent cut made by the library's board of trustees to the budget this fiscal year. 

Wisehart says considering those numbers and COVID-19's hit, the impact of this proposed budget cut would be a hard one to withstand. The library just started welcoming people back in on July 1.

"Coming at a time when we are re-opening our doors (and) welcoming people back in, it’s really hard to think about, you know, in a month we might have to cut our hours back, just as were starting to re-open and offer more services," Wisehart emphasized.

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Wisheart added that Ellsworth does receive some funding from surrounding towns but says they don't provide nearly as much as the city does. She says the trustees are aware of the issue and are looking at different means of funding, like requesting more from other towns, or charging non-resident fees -- but this plan is in the works and has not been fully established yet. That's why Wisehart says the if library loses $100,000 of its budget, staff members would likely have to cut some programs, services, and hours.

Now, community members are coming forward in solidarity with the library, joining a Facebook page called 'Support Ellsworth Public Library'. Barbara Beyer is one of the people coordinating this cause, telling NEWS CENTER Maine how much the library has meant to her and her family throughout the years. She says she wants the Ellsworth city councilors to pay attention.

"I really hope that they’ve been listening," Beyer said. "I can’t imagine they haven’t heard it. It’s been -- the response we’ve gotten from the community has been so strong."

Beyer says she is "confident" this is a cause that the community cares about and will support. Before Thursday's city council meeting, advocates for the library will meet in front of City Hall at 5 p.m. to voice their concerns. 

NEWS CENTER Maine reached out to Ellsworth city councilors for comment but did not hear back. The final budget decision will be made on July 20. 

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