Crow Wing County commissioners are considering taking advantage of a legislative change to funding it is mandated to provide to the public library system.
The state is allowing counties to reduce funding by 10 percent. That’s $56,000 from a $565,000 budget; the county’s library funding would decrease to $509,127 for 2012. The lower funding is figured into the county’s 2012 budget, which calls for a 2.37 percent decrease in the $34.8 million levy.
Residents will have an opportunity to talk about that funding issue and others as the board hosts a public hearing at 6 p.m. Dec. 13 on the county budget and tax levy and capital improvement plan.
Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom, who is the board liaison to the Kitchigami Regional Library Board, said she was concerned about reducing the budget. Nystrom said Beltrami County recently reduced a portion of their library spending by $15,000, cutting mobile library service there. But Nystrom said the other four counties in the system still have the fixed costs of the mobile library equipment.
“I’m concerned about the precedent of reducing that amount,” Nystrom said of the library funding. “Our library in Brainerd ... its usage has exploded. The worse the economy is, the more people are packing into this library. The computer use, the materials checked out — there is not a lower need there is a much higher need.”
Nystrom said funding for the library is a good investment and perhaps the answer is to reduce just a portion of the 10 percent allowable deduction and not put money into a rainy day fund to expand services in the future. But Nystrom said she cautioned against reducing services, such as the mobile library to areas like Garrison or Bay Lake.
Commissioner Doug Houge, who represents that area, said he hasn’t had any feedback on reduced services and would have to research it.
Kitchigami is exploring options. Nystrom said others have put in locked drop boxes and given library users a code to remove their checked out items.
Board Chairman Paul Thiede noted the library as a source for DVD movies and said the question may be how many tax dollars should go into providing someone with the ability to get DVDs.
Nystrom said that question has come up as libraries are asked to invest in new technologies such as e-books for electronic readers.
“Others are saying if you have enough money for an e-reader then buy your own dang books,” Nystrom said.
Thiede said he was leaning toward the reduction and perhaps the harsh budget reduction is the only way to get attention to detail. If the results aren’t what the county wants, the funding could be put back in, Thiede said. Commissioner Phil Trusty said he feels the same way. Houge asked how Beltrami County’s decision to reduce its services puts more cost on the other counties.
Nystrom said those are financial details that are still unknown. Houge agreed when Nystrom suggested having the library manager at the December meeting would help. Thiede said he doubted they would get definitive answers. As far as the legislative offer to give counties options with funding decisions on the library amid other budget constraints, Nystrom said it was a bit like punching someone in the nose and then offering to help them to their feet.
“We took it on the chin, all of us in local government,” Nystrom said: “So this was the little carrot. Here we’ve taken away your trick-or-treat bag but here’s a couple of Tootsie Rolls.”
Thiede said he wasn’t arguing the point, but the Legislature was faced with a $6 billion deficit.
He said the Legislature was willing to give local government an option for a little decision making.
“This I would characterize as a sacred cow that has not been touched for a lot of years,” Thiede said. “So it was allowed to have a discussion when it previously was not.”
Thiede suggested board members contact staff with any budget questions before the Dec. 13 meeting so they could be prepared for the discussion.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.