Should the Crow Wing County Fair Board charge admission to defray improvement costs?
That was one suggestion at the Crow Wing County Board meeting Tuesday as commissioners heard budget requests from the Crow Wing County Fair, Kitchigami Library System and the Brainerd lakes area senior center.
The fair association’s budget request rose from $7,500 to $95,000. Capital improvement plans include new sidewalks, new water lines and a covered grand stand. One of the goals is to increase the fair’s ability to attract people even in inclement weather.
Commissioner Phil Trusty said funding to the fair has been cut in recent years and he understands the bump to get things going. Commissioner Paul Thiede questioned if the new curling center was bringing in revenue. The fair board hopes to rent the building for events and weddings between May and October to generate income.
Thiede asked if the fair looked at charging admission as many people don’t pay to park but attend the fair. He said the goal was for the fair to be a self-supporting organization and its now more of an entertainment piece than a social reflection of an agrarian society. The fair board has talked about but not supported charging an admission fee, noting it would be hard for families to attend. On good weather years, the fair has 80,000 to 90,000 people in attendance. In 2011, there were 6,244 exhibits. There are events on the fairgrounds throughout the year.
The Kitchigami Regional Library system requested $549,002, an increase from $537,412 in 2012 for a difference of $11,590 and $40,000 more than the county is required to pay, according to state minimums. Last year the board cut $25,000 in library funding.
Marian Ridge, Kitchigami Regional Library System director, said much of the library’s increase for 2013 is related to electronic service. She pointed to increases in library use and high demand for areas expensive to maintain such as large print and audio books. On Sept. 21, the library launched an ebooks option for electronic readers like iPads, Nooks, KindleFire and the iPod Touch. Ridge said the library views the ebook collection as a great replacement to the mobile library services, which will be retired by 2014. The ebooks are available via www.krls.org. Users need a valid library card, which is free to check out materials. The reader may download books for two weeks. The library system has about 750 titles and is using the 3M cloud, paying $7,500 a year for the platform and $10,000 for content. Ridge said 3M was chosen for a three-year contract because it is committed to look for ways for libraries to share electronic materials the way it does printed materials today. And Kitchigami will own the material it purchases and be able to move them if another vendor is chosen in the future.
Commissioner Paul Thiede asked Ridge how she answers the question of why would people buy books anymore with the library providing this service. Ridge said the public library’s always existed to provide free access to materials. Publishers, she said, restrict best sellers so they won’t be available at library for months after releases, which is what happens now. Going to ebooks is something the public wants, Ridge reported, and its’ cost effective for the library’s delivery system — especially for rural areas.
The Center, as the senior center is now calling itself, was not funded last year but submitted a request for $20,000.
DeAnn Barry, center director, said Brainerd’s mill levy for the center dropped from $102,000 in 2009 to $76,704 for 2013.
“We are down over $25,000 in four years,” Barry said. “That’s pretty significant for us.”
The senior center is looking for the additional funding for operations not a specific project. Barry said the center is serving more people and they are coming in more often and she pointed to an aging population that is only going to grow and grow dramatically. The center, which serves those age 55 and older, has 1,587 paid memberships, although people who use the center don’t have to be members. Memberships are $20, which was recently raised from $15.
Barry said the center provides a place for people to come to be comfortable and socialize, filling a gap society doesn’t offer.
“We are doing more with less and are well aware of it,” Barry said, adding the center’s volunteers are active fundraisers through the annual plant sale and Thursday doughnut sales, but they need some help.
In addition, the county board heard brief updates on requests for additional staff from County Attorney Don Ryan who is seeking to add an entry legal assistant for 2013 to work primarily in child protection matters. Ryan said an increase in child protection cases and parental rights termination cases are going to trial and a split time position for that job is no longer workable.
The sheriff’s department also noted a burnout factor by being short a position in its dispatch center as overtime hours are needed or a supervisor is required to fill one team that has two staff members instead of three for its 12-hour shifts.
Administrator Tim Houle said there is a bright spot in the budget as the insurance renewal cost was negotiated down from a 24 percent increase to a 19 percent increase.
“I refuse to characterize that as good news,” Houle said. “I characterize it as not as bad news.”
The board will look at funding requests at its Oct. 9 budget workshop.