2016-05-12 / Front Page

Library request called good investment

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Nearly 20 people came out to a public hearing on the city budget last week to speak in support of funding for McArthur Public Library, which is requesting a $75,864 increase from this year’s city allocation. Jeff Cabral, the library’s director, said the library has been flat-funded for the last three years and is “always playing catch-up.”

Cabral said much of the library’s equipment is outdated, including phone handsets that are 15 to 20 years old and computers that are still running on Microsoft Windows 7.

“It makes life difficult not giving everyone a consistent experience if we’re not upgrading the system every couple of years,” Cabral said.

The request Cabral submitted to the city of $485,864 would represent only a portion of the library’s $1 million budget, which is funded primarily by endowments and trusts established by McArthur supporters. Cabral said support from the city falls short in comparison to how much other municipalities fund their public libraries.

Cabral said surrounding southern Maine libraries are supported at an average of $25 to $50 per capita, but McArthur Library is funded at less than $20 per capita. The average per-capita municipal allocation for publications, if applied in Biddeford, would be $512,000, he added.

Cabral said the library’s proposed allocation would be less than 3 cents on the mil rate and the increase would cost the owner of a median valued home $6 a year. The median value of property in Biddeford is $211,000.

Cabral said one uncertainty about the budget this year is whether the council will heed City Manager James Bennett’s suggestion to cut $50,000 overall from municipal services – services that are provided by entities other than city departments, such as McArthur Public Library, Shuttlebus-Zoom and Heart of Biddeford. And if the council does make the $50,000 in cuts, where it will come from.

Municipal services make up only 2 percent of the city’s overall budget.

Also included in the budget request is $12,500 for a capital improvements project, which would be matched by private donations, Cabral said. The project would rewire and install new lamps on the first floor, as well as renovate the community meeting room and children’s center, said Cabral.

“If we didn’t get a city contribution for those projects, we wouldn’t be able to do them,” he added.

Cabral said the turnout the library received at the May 3 public hearing was “a reflection of the value, the extent to which people value McArthur Library.”

“We are appreciative of the amount the public supports us,” he said.

Ward 5 City Councilor Bob Mills, whose ward includes the library, said he fully supports the library’s funding request.

“I know and have seen the tremendous assets it offers to our community and my family,” Mills said.

However, Mills said he is uncertain whether other councilors see things the same way.

“It seems like the majority want to hack everything,” he said.

The city council is scheduled to have a second reading of the city budget at its May 17 budget, at which a vote may be taken to approve, amend or table the city budget proposal.

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