Board hears appeal for library funding
Workers on their lunch breaks, families with young children and retirees are all regular users of the mobile library system and they will be the ones losing if library funding is cut, said Emily resident Kent Rees.
Rees spoke to the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday during one of its rare night meetings. The public hearing gave people an opportunity to talk about the county budget and tax levy for 2012. This year, the Legislature gave counties the option of reducing their mandatory contribution to the library system up to 10 percent. For Crow Wing County, the full 10 percent decrease amounts to $56,000.
The county 2012 budget calls for $509,127 funding for the library with the 10 percent reduction already included. The Kitchigami Regional Library System, which includes Beltrami, Hubbard, Wadena, Cass and Crow Wing counties, provided the board with a list of reduced service options in response to cuts in funding. Options included reduced staff hours at Brainerd’s library and reduced services such as the mobile library.
Beltrami and Cass counties cut funding by 5 percent. Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom said the other counties may not be reducing funding. For its 2012 preliminary budget, which the county must finalize by Dec. 28, Crow Wing County cut the entire 10 percent. Tuesday Nystrom and Commissioner Phil Trusty suggested a 5 percent cut be considered.
Rees said he and his wife are regular users of the mobile library, which travels to Emily twice a month. Rees said the distance from Emily to Brainerd is about 80 miles round trip.
“How many will not be able to make this drive?” Rees asked.
Board Chairman Paul Thiede said Kitchigami has a host of options for funding reductions beyond the mobile library, which is probably not where the county want to see the cuts. The Legislature gave counties the option to reduce funding recognizing the budget issues counties are facing, Thiede said.
Thiede said he believed these economic times call for some re-evaluation and he didn’t have a problem reducing the county’s contribution.
“We are all facing significant budget cuts,” Thiede said.
Commissioner Doug Houge said he had no doubt the library could step up and continue the same service with less funding because the board has seen that with its own departments. Commissioner Rosemary Franzen agreed and then said she’d like to make sure the mobile library wasn’t the target for the reduction.
The county has asked everyone to tighten belts, Trusty said, adding he would go along with a 5 percent reduction in the library contribution.
Nystrom, who serves as the county liaison to the Kitchigami board, said circulation is up 18 percent in 2011 at Brainerd’s library — which is the busiest library in five counties — and cutting 10 percent could mean a cut to personnel and materials.
Jolene Bradley, Brainerd library branch manager, told the board 1,000 people come through the library’s doors each day. Nystrom said with that volume how can hours and staff be cut. The board has the option to cut the library funding, “but should we?” Nystrom asked. Bradley said the library looks at every dollar spent.
The board noted they received heart-wrenching letters about people who have been getting mobile library service since 1968. And they also received comments from people who declared commissioners were never in the library or suggested they never cracked open a book. Trusty said he had a more hardened opinion after getting those emails and Thiede said that accusation is false and he prides himself on being a good reader. Favoring a reduction in the library budget does not mean they are against education and reading, Thiede said.
Part of the money dedicated for the library, $24,591, has gone toward funding a future library expansion and with about $400,000 in the account, it already has enough to fund another collection. Nystrom said by reducing funding to that future collection the library would not have to reduce hours or staff.
The county board has not made a final decision on the 2012 budget but faces a Dec. 28 deadline to do so. More budget discussion is expected at the board’s next Committee of the Whole meeting on Dec. 20.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.