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Brainerd Council hopes extra library funds will benefit taxpayers

The excess money could impact the city's levy next year or help with future library building repairs.

Brainerd Public Library
Brainerd Public Library. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Brainerd City Council members hope to see excess funds paid by taxpayers to the city’s public library come back to benefit the community.

The Kitchigami Regional Library System has excess money in its fund balance, board member Mary Koep told the city council earlier this month. A recent audit found an excess of $316,215 paid by Brainerd for personnel expenses at the library over the past seven years. The fate of that money is not yet known, but the regional library board wants the city’s input.

The Kitchigami system is one of 12 regional library systems in Minnesota, providing library service to more than 130,000 residents in Beltrami, Cass, Crow Wing, Hubbard and Wadena counties. Much of the system’s funding comes from allotments from local governments.

Both Crow Wing County and the city of Brainerd are signatories to the joint powers agreement governing the library system, meaning representatives from these governments serve on the board and property tax levy dollars are allocated to fund the system.

Per state statute, there is a minimum “maintenance of effort” requirement the city and county are required to levy. For 2021, Brainerd’s minimum maintenance of effort requirement was $116,790, while Crow Wing County’s was $509,000.

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The 2021 budget for the Brainerd library, set by the Kitchigami Regional Library Board, is $594,272. The Brainerd City Council levied $146,851 for the library for pay year 2021. Of that sum, $81,757 is paid to the regional library board and referred to as the Kitchigami Regional Library levy. Operations accounts for $77,098, and $4,659 goes toward the automatic reserve and replacement account.

The remaining $65,094 is for building costs, including utilities, cleaning supplies, toiletries, snow removal, insurance and capital fund items such as heating, ventilation and cooling; roof repairs; lighting, etc.

The Brainerd Library Board met to consider the extra funds and came up with the recommendation to hold a portion of the excess funds in abeyance for the city’s 2022 library levy — about $80,000-$90,000 — and credit $210,000 to the Brainerd Public Library’s capital fund. The remainder of the money, then, would go to Kitchigami Regional Library System with the hope of being spent to make necessary personnel adjustments at the Brainerd library.

The regional library board agreed last year to use some of the excess money to reduce levies to local units of governments for 2021, resulting in a $10,000 reduction for Brainerd.

After city staff mulled over the proposal, Finance Director Connie Hillman told the council’s personnel and finance committee Monday, May 17, how the funds might impact the city. One question is whether the funds returned to Brainerd can be used for the city’s minimum maintenance of effort or if it has to go into the library’s capital fund. That question will hopefully be answered, she said, at the regional library board’s next meeting May 20.

Hillman said the city council could also recommend putting all $316,215 toward needed facility repairs at the library instead of having to do them later down the road.

0520121.N.BD.BrainerdCouncilMisc
City staff and members of the Brainerd City Council's personnel and finance committee discuss excess library funds and how they might be used Monday, May 17. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

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Koep reminded the council the Kitchigami Regional Library Board will have the final say in where the money goes but added she just wants to make sure it benefits taxpayers in some way.

“They’re the ones who paid it,” she said. “The average citizen out there in their home and on the street paid that overage. So somehow, in my opinion, they should benefit.”

Koep said there are roof repairs that will have to be done at the library before long. And while board members are looking at roof repairs, they’re also considering the idea of solar panels and if they might be a benefit. Money for those repairs and upgrades would come from the library’s capital fund.

Committee member Kevin Stunek agreed with Koep on making sure the money benefits taxpayers, and committee member Tiffany Stenglein said she would like to see money go into the capital fund so the council does not see a spike in its budget later when repairs are needed.

If the money goes toward a levy reduction, Committee Chair Gabe Johnson asked how long that reduction would be sustainable. Taxpayers may not necessarily notice a reduction for a couple years, but they’ll sure notice an increase later, Johnson said.

The committee and the full council ultimately agreed to have Koep present the library board’s original recommendation, as well as an option for more of the money to go to the capital fund, to the regional library board, with the understanding that the city is willing to work with the library to get this money back to taxpayers in the best way possible.

In other business Monday, the council:

Accepted a quote from Diamond Tower Service Inc. to replace the ropes on the flagpoles attached to the historic water tower at a cost of $4,000.

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Accepted the resignation of Community Service Officer Andrew Louks, effective May 14, and authorized staff to fill the vacancy. Future community service officers will be hired at $12 an hour instead of the current $11.67, as the city has seen a decrease in applicants in the past year and learned wages are a concern.

Authorized the hiring of Jacob Scholten as a police officer, beginning June 1 at step 1 of the city’s wage grid, earning $28.26 per hour.

Authorized the police department to dispose of its recently retired squad car using Central Minnesota Dealer Auction south of Brainerd.

Identified two priorities for which to request state bonding funds in 2022. Staff and council members agreed to submit applications for funding for the replacement of BPU’s water storage tanks and for the extension of the Cuyuna Lakes State Trail.

Accepted a bid from DeChantal Excavating for an upcoming road construction project on and around Madison Street in southeast Brainerd. The bid is just over $2.5 million, which is about $800,000 under the engineer’s estimate.

Accepted a bid from Lot Pros Inc. for the city’s 2021 crack sealing project at a cost of $13,804. The total cost with materials will be $20,291.50, which is under the $25,000 the city budgets annually for crack sealing.

Approved a proposal from Braun Intertec for testing services on the Northwest Third Street and Jackson Street reconstruction project at a cost of $5,066.

Approved an event application for the DANGIE 5K - War Against Cancer, which is set for Aug. 7 in Kiwanis Park and Rotary Riverside Park.

Approved an event application for the WeARE fundraiser, set for 5-7 p.m. Aug. 18 in the Laurel Street parking lot.

Accepted the resignation of Ashley Storm from the Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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