UNITY, Maine — Unity residents strongly supported helping to fund a new public library at the annual town meeting on Saturday, but it’s not a done deal yet.
The motion to spend $50,000 from the community’s Tax Increment Financing district on the proposed Unity Public Library passed easily, Jean Bourg, a key proponent of the endeavor, said Monday. She estimated that about 60 people were in favor, with about 30 opposed.
“It was not close,” she said. “We had a really good turnout of people who wanted a library.”
The library is slated to be located in the former Maine Farmland Trust building in downtown Unity. Bourg and her partner, Melissa Bastien, purchased the building and have started a new nonprofit, the Unity Public Library, to run the library. They believe it would fill a need in the community, which has historically used the Dorothy W. Quimby Library at Unity College. Because of the pandemic, that resource has been closed since March 2020. Unity College’s library is set to reopen on Aug. 2, 2021.
Earlier this year, Bourg and Bastien spearheaded a petition drive to get enough signatures to have residents decide at a town meeting whether they wanted to give the library a one-time sum of $50,000. Because money raised through the financing district is earmarked for economic development, the funds would need to finance eligible items, such as job training, business, educational and other similar resources.
One of the three library rooms is planned as a classroom and meeting room, where Bourg envisions people taking workshops on photo editing, commonly used office software and even learning to code.
“We’d accumulate some really good business resources,” she said.
Unity residents discussed the proposal for about two hours before voting on it.
Before the money can be released, representatives of the Unity Public Library still need to pass other hurdles to receive the funding. First, they need to get approval from the town’s economic development committee. Then, they will need to get a final OK from the town select board, according to Unity Selectman Penny Sampson. She and other board members are dubious about this use of the district’s funds.
Sampson also didn’t appreciate that the library vote was moved from the end of the town meeting warrant to the very beginning. She believes that some residents came just to vote on the library question and then left before the town addressed the rest of the business at hand.
“I don’t love that it happened that way,” she said. “I think it was unfair to other people. We all had to sacrifice to make time to be there. These people kind of showed up, voted and then bolted.”
Sampson said she is not opposed to libraries, but does feel that the town shouldn’t have to support this one financially. The $50,000 would “more than clean out” the remaining financing district funds for this year, she said. The financing district generates about $80,000 annually for Unity economic development. The special district was created in the mid-1990s and is expected to end in 2025.
“I just think that this was somebody’s dream, and now the town’s on the hook,” Sampson said. “Most people that I talk to have no use for a library, nor do they want to support it. They should have shown up on Saturday.”
For her part, Bourg said that the vote was a heartening sign that a lot of residents are in favor of creating the library. But it doesn’t mean that organizers are now able to sit back and relax — far from it. They are writing grants, preparing for a general capital campaign and otherwise just learning how to start a library.
“I’m feeling like we see the step by step path,” she said.
When she’s feeling optimistic, she can imagine that the library might be able to open its doors with a limited collection by late fall.
“To bring a library from zero to open in one year, I think that’s pretty darn fast,” Bourg said. “We’ll see if we get there.”