By Anna Jauhola
As counties and cities begin the 2020 budgeting process, various entities are also preparing their requests for funding.
Last week, Jim Trojanowski of the Northwest Regional Library presented the organization’s request for an increase in funding from the county and the cities of Hallock and Karlstad.
“Last year we did not ask for an increase, but we’re asking for 3 percent this year,” Trojanowski said at the Kittson County Commission meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 6. “Part of the reason is state funding remained flat for the last 12 years.”
Due to that flat funding, the Northwest Regional Library system has had to dip into its cash reserves over the last three budget cycles to balance the budget. While cash reserves sit at 42 percent of NWRL’s annual budget, dipping into reserves is not a long-term solution, he said.
During the commission meeting, Trojanowski said that most of NWRL’s costs are related to staffing. According to the information he presented, staffing for the nine libraries cost $847,159.16 in 2019. Most of these libraries only have one paid staff person, Trojanowski said, noting that headquarters in Thief River Falls has five paid staff members. Peggy Pearson is the county librarian and covers both Hallock and Karstad libraries.
“There is no room to cut staffing,” Trojanowski said.
The majority of the NWRL budget is made up of funding from counties and cities – $760, 899.76 – which is mandated by state legislation. Three major grants cover a little over one-third of the organization’s funding at $494,590.62.
The system operated at a deficit of $18,918.21 in 2019.
The numbers Trojanowski presented were NWRL’s requested funds for the 2019 budget cycle. The 2019 certified budget for Hallock shows the city budgeted $15,000 toward NWRL. City Administrator Angela Grafstrom said the council did this after they realized the city of Warren was only paying $10,200 toward NWRL. Trojanowski maintains NWRL’s records show the city of Hallock allocated $17,905 in 2019.
Grafstrom and the council questioned why Hallock was paying so much more than Warren, a city of over 1,500 people, which has only paid $10,200 each of the last two years. They agreed Hallock’s portion should be more in line with Warren’s portion.
Trojanowski told city and county officials that although circulation is down in Hallock, it is up in Karlstad because they added hours for one Saturday a month last year. However, libraries are constantly changing types of items circulated, including increased popularity of digital and audio books.
And libraries as community gathering places are just as important as ever. Programming through libraries in small communities provides well-attended events, such as the summer reading program and various events year-round funded through the Clean Water and Land Legacy Amendment.
“There has never been a day where the library is empty all day,” Pearson said of her 19-year career at Hallock.
She added that at both libraries, patrons do not cover just one demographic. During the summer, many more children attend for summer reading programs, but all year long patrons come to read newspapers, check out books and movies, use the computers and to visit.
“For a lot of small communities, it really is a cornerstone,” Trojanowski said at the Hallock City Council meeting on Monday, April 5.
There wasn’t much discussion regarding the increase in funding during the county commission meeting. However, during Hallock’s council meeting, Grafstrom mentioned the Hallock Public Library has its own fund the city administers for it.
On Friday last week, Librarian Pearson and an email from Trojanowski clarified the purpose of that fund, which is named the Library Construction Fund. It holds over $60,000, much of which came from intensified fundraising efforts and donations from the public.
“The funds held by the board supplement, but do not replace, the operating budget of Northwest Regional Library,” Trojanowski wrote.
In a 2013 email to NWRL from former City Clerk Hank Noel, explained the leftover money from the library expansion project was put into that fund and the city contributed $10,000 to the fund for “depreciation/maintenance” work. He said Noel’s email stated the fund would be audited if the city held the funds.
These funds have grown significantly over the last five years and allows the library board and Pearson to provide additions to the library. The fund has been used to purchase furniture, shelving, a water fountain, newspaper subscriptions and extra books, Pearson said. The money has also supported extra programming beyond what NWRL provides, and allows professional carpet cleaning when needed. The fund also pays for a person to clean the library on a regular basis.
The funds, to be clear, do not cover day-to-day operating expenses of the library. NWRL covers those expenses through the money allocated from cities and counties, and the grant funding.
Grafstrom said she doesn’t think the fund should be administered by the city anymore and that the library board should handle it. She said the city’s auditors told her the city cannot give the fund back to the library without information stating it is the library’s money.
Grafstrom said Pearson found information that ensures the money is the library’s. If the board becomes a 501c3 nonprofit, then they can take the money back, Grafstrom said, otherwise, the money goes back into the city budget.
“I have been concerned that the city wasn’t going to be able to give that money back to the library. That’s why I brought up the fund,” Grafstrom said.
The Hallock Library Board is set to meet later this month and is planning to discuss establishing a 501c3 to allow the board to hold the funds, said Kristin Eggerling, board president. Several years ago, the board discussed forming as a 501c3, but it was cost-prohibitive to establish and the board would have been required to file taxes annually.
“In more recent times, they have changed some laws and now it’s not as difficult to set up a 501c3,” Eggerling said. “If you have under a certain amount of money, you send in a postcard and don’t file taxes. And I think we’re at that amount, so we could do that.”
Trojanowski strongly encouraged the city to allocate the requested 3 percent increase on top of the $17,905.
“I believe the city of Hallock receives a tremendous return on its appropriation,” he said.
By Anna Jauhola