During budget talks late last year, the board weighed library needs against a funding request for seniors citizens.
In 2012, county board members — after sometimes heated budget discussions — voted to take $20,000 from the Kitchigami Regional Library System (KRLS) to fund The Center, formerly the Brainerd Lakes Area Senior Activity Center.
So early this year, the library board cut $20,000 from the outreach budget for materials for affiliate libraries in Crosslake and Pequot Lakes.
“The timing was just real tough for us and a hard pill to swallow,” said Jon Henke, Crosslake parks, recreation and library director, at Tuesday’s board meeting. Henke noted the funding change came after the city’s budget was finalized, leaving Crosslake no option to address the change. “We didn’t feel the cut they made was the right way to approach this.”
Henke, along with representatives from Crosslake and Pequot Lakes, asked the county board to support a request to have Kitchigami restore the funding.
The regional library system requested $549,002 from the county for 2013. The request represented an increase of $11,590 from the $537,412 it received in 2012 and $40,000 more than the county was required to pay, according to state minimums.
Last year, Crosslake and Pequot Lakes libraries received $10,000 each. In 2010 and 2011, the libraries received $5,000 each. For 2013, the libraries in Crosslake and Pequot Lakes will not receive any funding. The Brainerd Public Library expects to get $133,378 for materials.
And representatives said, unlike Brainerd where residents are taxed by the city and don’t contribute to the county tax levy for library services, Crosslake and Pequot Lakes residents pay for their local libraries and contribute tax dollars to the regional system.
Henke said funding $10,000 to each library equates to 3.79 percent of the $529,002 budgeted for Crow Wing County library expenditures in 2013.
Commissioners Paul Koering, Doug Houge and Rosemary Franzen all spoke of a reluctance to tell another board how to spend its budget. Houge said if they start to micromanage the library board, he could see dozens of groups coming back to oppose decisions.
“This board is there for a reason to make the tough decisions as we do,” Houge said of the library board. “I struggle with us getting involved with this at this point.”
Gordon Hardy, Merrifield, was one who noted the library was a precious resource to his family. A mother of young children said the library was for more than a good “beach read” and was essential to the youngsters in the community.
The two libraries are affiliated libraries but are not part of the Kitchigami system. Henke said becoming part of the system would have required them to reduce operating hours. Crosslake and Pequot Lakes libraries had higher circulation last year than three of the nine Kitchigami branch libraries. A number of years ago, Kitchigami and the volunteer libraries developed a working relationship to reach residents.
Neal Gaalswyk, Kitchigami Regional Library Board chairman and Cass County commissioner, said it would have been helpful to hear direction from Crow Wing County along with the budget cut. Gaalswyk said cutting funding for the two libraries wasn’t the only option but the library board decided it cannot stock shelves of libraries that aren’t part of the system. Gaalswyk pointed to other libraries in Leader and Remer, which are not funded. Kitchigami provides online access and delivers books on loan from its system four times a week to the Crosslake and Pequot Lakes libraries.
Commissioner Paul Thiede, whose district includes Crosslake and Pequot Lakes, said if the purpose of the regional library is not to encourage readership of books and expansion of minds they might as well do away with the minimum funding requirement. Gaalswyk said Thiede infers this library board decision is against those two goals, but it is not. Kitchigami wouldn’t have enough money to put books in every volunteer-run library in the region, Gaalswyk said.
Board Chairwoman Rachel Reabe Nystrom and Thiede were part of the at times contentious budget discussion. Nystrom, a long-time library supporter and the board’s library liaison, made the Kitchigami motion to cut the funding. Thiede, who had suggested taking money from the library to fund the senior center, characterized Kitchigami’s move as odd.
After the meeting, Nystrom said her vote had nothing to do with Thiede or his earlier action.
“When our libraries succeed in Crow Wing County we all move ahead,” Nystrom said. “Personal? Not one iota.”
Nystrom said her decision was based entirely on numbers, such as the Brainerd Public Library having 96 percent of the circulation. Nystrom’s sister works part time at the Brainerd library. Nystrom said libraries and books are a passion in her family and she was glad to see supporters voicing their concerns. She said if the funding goes directly to the affiliate libraries those materials do not come back to the regional system.
Two county votes failed Tuesday. The first was a motion to take out proposed resolution language directing the Kitchigami board to reinstate the $20,000, with only Thiede and Franzen in favor. The second motion was to accept the motion as written. Thiede was the only commissioner in favor.
The next Kitchigami Regional Library Board meeting is March 28.