Crow Wing County: Crosby library could join Kitchigami

Hours and services at the Brainerd Public Library could face cuts if the Jessie F. Hallett Memorial Library in Crosby is folded into the Kitchigami Regional Library System.

Friends of the Brainerd Public Library member Sue Beck (center left) addresses three members of the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday with concerns about the possible inclusion into the Kitchigami Regional Library System of the Jessie F. Hallett Memorial Library in Crosby.Beck, Meg Douglas and Sheila DeChantal are concerned the move could lead to cuts of services or hours at the Brainerd library. Chelsey Perkins/Brainerd Dispatch
Friends of the Brainerd Public Library member Sue Beck (center left) addresses three members of the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday with concerns about the possible inclusion into the Kitchigami Regional Library System of the Jessie F. Hallett Memorial Library in Crosby. Beck, Meg Douglas and Sheila DeChantal are concerned the move could lead to cuts of services or hours at the Brainerd library. Chelsey Perkins/Brainerd Dispatch

Hours and services at the Brainerd Public Library could face cuts if the Jessie F. Hallett Memorial Library in Crosby is folded into the Kitchigami Regional Library System.

Representatives of Friends of the Brainerd Public Library addressed the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday at its committee of the whole meeting, voicing concerns about a proposal that would bring the independent library into the five-county regional system.

"The pie is only so big, and it's going to be cut with another piece potentially out of it," said Sue Beck, a member of the Friends group.

A 2015 request by the city of Crosby for the Kitchigami Regional Library System Board to consider incorporating the Hallett library could come to a head Thursday, as the board considers the financial impact of the decision.

The Brainerd Public Library is the only KRLS member library in Crow Wing County, along with two associate libraries in Pequot Lakes and Crosslake. The Hallett library, meanwhile, is one of the last remaining independent libraries in the state, operated by the city of Crosby and funded mostly through city property taxes and the Hallett Charitable Trusts.


Those concerned about the inclusion of the Hallett library into the system emphasized they are not anti-library, but instead are worried the ripple effects of the change are not fully understood.

"We need to have the facts," Beck said. "We need to understand what would happen if Crosby comes in. ... I'm just hoping this doesn't move too fast."

Regional system, local impact

The Kitchigami system, or KRLS, 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. 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.

The county contributes a little more than $509,000 in tax dollars each year to KRLS, the minimum contribution required by state law. This means county residents have access to Kitchigami libraries and all amenities and services available-all residents except those residing within the city limits of Crosby. Those residents are excluded from Kitchigami library use because they do not contribute to the county's library fund. Crosby's residents instead pay city taxes that support the Hallett library.

The three Crow Wing County commissioners in attendance Tuesday emphasized the library decision was out of their hands and instead was the purview of the library board.

"We're not doing anything to screw up the Brainerd Public Library," said Commissioner Paul Koering.

Beck and others in attendance responded they wished to share their concerns with Commissioner Paul Thiede, who represents the county on the library board. They pointed to a KRLS policy they said would be violated if the proposal proceeded-one that notes adding a library should be done only if it does not reduce the existing levels of service.


"We're just asking that you would ask that the board adhere to this, and not go by the wayside," said Dawn Stattine, vice president of the Friends group. "People in Brainerd depend on their library."

Thiede said there was little precedence, if any, for incorporating an independent library into the regional system. The referenced policy could be overturned by a simple majority of the library board, he noted.

"There is not a clear path to decide how we're going to establish a new library," Thiede said. "I thought we all had encouraging reading and the use of the materials as our goal. ... Sometimes the detail gets in the way of the goal."

Thiede served on a fact-finding committee of the library board developed to explore the Crosby proposal. The chair of that committee was Cass County Commissioner Neal Gaalswyk, who echoed Thiede's point about the novelty of the situation in a phone interview.

"There is a procedure in place, but it's not one that is well used," Gaalswyk said. "We want to be helpful. We want to facilitate the process. We don't want to put up roadblocks to Crosby coming on board. Our mission is to make library services as widely available within the region as we can."

Gaalswyk said while it was true the library board is tasked with setting budgets and distributing funds to each library within its system, the decision on the amount of money spent on libraries is one made by local governments. Cass County, for example, elects to levy a higher number of dollars for libraries than the state-required minimum. Gaalswyk said the Cass County Board bases this decision on a budget proposal sent out by the library board.

"It says, if you want library services to look similar to what they looked in previous year, this is what it's going to take," Gaalswyk said.

Gaalswyk acknowledged without a change in Crow Wing's funding, resources previously allocated to the Brainerd branch would likely end up in Crosby, should the Hallett library be incorporated.


"This really is an intensely local decision," Gaalswyk said. "I think it is the responsibility of the regional library board to do the best job that it can in making sure that library services are distributed throughout the region and that they are available to the people kind of in a geographically distributed fashion."

Services for all

Former Crosby Mayor Joanna Lattery is a strong advocate for the Hallett library's inclusion in KRLS. Lattery said by phone Tuesday Crosby residents would benefit from accessing the regional system, which includes a much larger collection of books, periodicals, events and other services.

"I totally get that they (the Brainerd library supporters) don't want to give up any money and possibly have to change some of their hours," Lattery said. "At the same token, Crosby residents, they are the same as everybody else. We're not asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars. We're just asking for a fair formula."

Lattery added the library's independent status discludes it from many grant funding opportunities available to those within the regional systems. Although not directly taxed, Lattery said Crosby residents do support the system through state taxes used for those grants and other supports.

Both the Crosby City Council and the Hallett library board drafted resolutions in 2016, expressing support of the move to Kitchigami, Lattery said.

Crow Wing County Board Chairman Doug Houge, who represents the Crosby area, penned a letter in November 2016, adding his support of the change.

"To be clear, my support is contingent on living within existing resource commitments from Crow Wing County as I do not support increasing the county's levy for library systems at this time," Houge wrote.


Marian Ridge, director of KRLS, said by phone the board would not be making final budget decisions Thursday, but would evaluate the potential costs of adding the Hallett library to the system. According to Ridge, one-time costs would run about $132,000, which is proposed to be split among KRLS, the city of Crosby, reserve funds of Crow Wing County and aid from the state. The cost for the first full year in 2018 was estimated at $164,618, Ridge said, but it is yet to be determined what percentage of these costs each partner would contribute.

Ridge said the impact on Brainerd would depend on both the county and city levy contributions, not the county alone. She said until some additional direction from local partners was received, the board would not finalize its budget at Thursday's meeting.

Mary Koep, former Brainerd council member who continues to represent the city on the library board, said Brainerd residents pay $143,000 each year toward the local library and the regional system. Koep said she felt the whole situation was handled improperly to the detriment of Brainerd residents.

"Brainerd wasn't included in the discussion at all," Koep said in a phone interview. "It was the middle of the summer (2016) before we heard anything."

Koep said the Brainerd library does not serve only Brainerd residents, but also serves many Crow Wing County communities that do not have their own libraries. A cut in hours could mean limiting access to those people who have farther to drive to get to the library, she said.

"It serves all ages, from tiny little kids to old people like me," Koep said. "It's a jewel in Brainerd's crown. ... To do anything to make that less would, I think, be a terrible mistake."

Alternative solutions proposed

Koep praised newly elected Crosby Mayor James Hunter, who she said was working to consider other answers to the library question.


"We absolutely have no animosity toward Crosby," Koep said. "They are our neighbor, they are our friend, we work with them on some issues. We, too, want the best for Crosby. ... But there are a couple of very good options that would give them full access to the Brainerd library."

Reached Tuesday, Hunter said he's open to whatever the community of Crosby wants to do, and he would leave it up to the city council to make its opinion known once more definitive costs were determined.

"So far, most of the opinions in the community is they would like to keep their library the way it is," Hunter said.

Hunter noted other options were available to Crosby concerning the library. These include requesting the city be included in the county's levy for libraries, or the potential for the Hallett library to be treated as an associate library, like those in Pequot Lakes and Crosslake.

If Crosby residents were included in the county's library levy, Hunter said it would cost them about $4,000 each year, spread among property owners. This would allow Crosby residents access to the Kitchigami system. Within this structure, the Hallett library could be considered an associate library. These libraries, although not considered full partners of the Kitchigami system, offer patrons access to the KRLS catalog. Three times a week, books requested by Pequot Lakes and Crosslake residents are transported to those libraries.

In return for those services, the cities pay a fee. They also receive funding through a fund reserved by the county a decade ago, which currently is not replenished from any source. Ridge said the Crosslake and Pequot Lakes libraries are each set to receive $6,000 from this fund in 2017, which they can use to expand their own catalogs.

"The regional library board is aware at some time a mechanism will have to be put in place," Ridge said, noting eventually the funds will run out.

Gaalswyk said he would look to Thiede as the Crow Wing County representative to weigh in on whether it would allow the Hallett library to dip into those funds as well. He said if Crosby residents began paying toward the county's levy without the Hallett library becoming an associate, it wouldn't be a complete solution.


"It wouldn't answer the question of what's going to become of the Hallett library in the city of Crosby," Gaalswyk said. "Is there going to be a physical library?"

Gaalswyk said although the issue on its face appeared complicated and even arcane, it could be simplified in the way most local government issues can.

"What is the best system for getting library services for the greatest number of people in our region at a cost that the taxpayers are willing to support?" Gaalswyk said. "That's really what it comes down to."

If you go

The Kitchigami Regional Library System Board meets 6 p.m. Thursday, at the Kitchigami Regional Library headquarters, 310 Second St. N., Pine River.


This story was updated to correctly reflect who has access to the Jessie F. Hallett Memorial Library in Crosby. It is available free of charge to anyone residing in School District No. 182. Anyone outside that district may pay a $20 fee to get a library card.

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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