LEWISTON — City officials are considering a budget change that would reduce the Lewiston Public Library’s hours of operation.

During a budget workshop last week, a majority of the council appeared to support a proposal to cut library hours from 50 to 40 hours per week, a move that several argued would help the city find savings during a difficult budget year.

However, other councilors said the library is an important community resource that should be accessible as much as possible, and it only represents 2% of the municipal budget.

During the workshop, Councilor Bob McCarthy said he would prefer cutting enough hours to close the library two days per week. He said it would allow the city to “eliminate some part-time staff” and save on utility costs.

The library is open Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with reduced hours during the summer.

Longtime Library Director Marcela Peres left the role earlier this month.


On Thursday, interim Director Katherine Webber said the library has already been discussing “restructuring” hours, with a proposal to go down to 45 hours per week and open earlier on some weekdays. She said if the library was to close a day, staff would prefer it was Monday, when full-time staff could catch up on other needs.

A statement from the library board of trustees on Monday said like most institutions right now, the library is facing staff burnout and turnover.

“Library leadership has been working for a number of weeks on a proposal to support staff well-being and staffing ratios so that the library can better meet the needs of the community,” it states. “The library is the heart and soul of Lewiston and fully funding the library is critical to our community and its future.”

Councilor Rick LaChapelle said he would be “all in favor” of cutting library hours, stating that the city also needs to look at other issues like the number of unhoused people using the library for shelter during daytime hours. He said between the schools and city, Lewiston spends roughly $2 million annually on libraries.

“Is this council prepared to make some difficult decisions?” he asked, referring to the fiscal 2024 budget.

Councilor Scott Harriman, who is against the proposal, said the library “serves many purposes” in the community, and it only represents about 2% of the city’s budget.


According to a preliminary budget, the recommended library budget for next year is $1.23 million, an increase of $73,000. In comparison, the proposed budget increase for the Police Department for next year sits at $2.2 million.

Councilor Larry Pease said the library “needs to cut some costs somewhere, every department is doing it.” He also said, holding up his smartphone, that the library is not relied on as much as it used to be.

Asked to describe the library’s current role, Webber said it’s “more than just the books, it’s about people.” She said the library connects community members with various resources including jobs, resume-building, tax forms, bus schedules, Wi-Fi access — and yes, book recommendations. The library also runs several literacy programs, the monthly Great Falls Forum and more.

“The library saved my life when I was a kid, I’m not going to lie,” Councilor Linda Scott said. “I can’t even imagine closing the library. They’re already looking at some restructuring, we should allow them to do that. It’s a huge service to our community.”

Mayor Carl Sheline said the library is “a cornerstone of knowledge and culture in our city and its value to our community cannot be overstated.”

“The library is not ‘extra,’ a ‘luxury’ or ‘redundant,'” he said. “It’s an essential city department and we shouldn’t look to balance the budget by removing access to books. Forcing the library to close a day represents a giant step backwards.”


During the workshop, Councilor Lee Clement said he’s not trying to “belittle the library,” but is looking at “a greater picture than just the library.”

The council will continue its budget discussions Thursday, and is slated to take initial action on next year’s budget May 2.

Last week, councilors told city administration to look at open positions across city departments and make recommendations about whether to fund them. City Administrator Heather Hunter was told to propose cuts to get the city’s projected property tax rate next year to between $31 and $30.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

The property tax rate is $28.50, but the city began budget talks this year with a budget that reflected a $34.46 tax rate.

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