By Anna Jauhola
Over the last several years, the Northwest Regional Library system has been deficit spending due to its reserves being so high. Although the reserves are still in decent standing — 52 percent of the organization’s operating budget — officials agree that deficit budgeting needs to stop.
Jim Trojanowski, director of NWRL, made annual funding requests last week from the Kittson County Commissioners and the city councils at Hallock and Karlstad.
“We’re asking for a 3 percent increase,” Trojanowski said. “Tracee Bruggeman is our auditor and a couple years ago she mentioned we’ve been deficit budgeting for a while because we’ve had a healthy reserve. But we’re getting to the point where we need to try to tone that down. This year, our budgeted deficit is about $43,000.”
He noted NWRL wants to address the deficit spending now before it becomes a problem in the future. They are working on a preliminary budget for 2023, but there are several unknowns such as increased insurance costs and how much will come in state funding.
Trojanowski presented 3 percent increases for each community and county to the commission and councils:
• Hallock — total $15,917, which is an increase of $464.
• Karlstad — total of $7,104, which is an increase of $207.
• Kittson County — total $70,916, which is an increase of $2,066.
“If I look at it, it’d be hard to say we’re paying too much, considering the amount of circulation,” said Hallock Mayor Dave Treumer.
Trojanowski said there’s little to no room for cuts, considering each library has only one paid employee and hours can’t be reduced below the statutory 20 hours per week to be considered a library.
In Hallock, the circulation for 2021 was 24,498, which is almost back to pre-COVID times. And the 2022 year-to-date circulation is closing in on 12,000 as of the end of June. Hallock accounts for 13 percent of the overall NWRL circulation and 1 percent of the organization’s budget.
Kittson County’s appropriation contributes to 17 percent of the overall budget.
At the Karlstad LINK site – which is open 20 hours per month – circulation is already back to pre-COVID numbers with 2021 circulation at 9,007 and 2022 year-to-date circulation at 4,338. Karlstad accounts for about 5 percent of the circulation and about 0.5 percent of the budget.
“Karlstad is heavily used. They are on par with Greenbush, which is open as many hours in the week as Karlstad is in a month,” Trojanowski said. “It’s really amazing.”
Trojanowski praised long-time Hallock Librarian Peggy Pearson for her innate ability to connect with all her patrons and ensure both the Hallock Library and the Karlstad LINK site continue running. She also has several people in who help out at both locations.
“She’s wonderful. There is really a lot of fondness in the community for Peggy. It’s amazing,” he said. “And, for whatever reason, Peggy has a small army of volunteers.”
Charlie Lindberg, who represents Kittson County on the NWRL board, also commended Pearson.
“Everybody loves Peggy. She does everything she can to help. You walk in (the library) and say, ‘I’m looking for this,’ and she has a book stuck out in her hand, ready for you,” Lindberg said.
During COVID, the NWRL changed tactics in how it served patrons and to remain viable to the public. NWRL received about $70,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, which were designated toward technology. Trojanowski said they purchased 75 wireless internet hotspots to distribute to area school districts during the pandemic, which allowed children better access to internet at home. While that program has now ended, NWRL continues to offer wireless hotspots to its patrons to borrow for three weeks at a time, and will be purchasing more.
NWRL also improved its digital product borrowing. They already had Overdrive, but that program had limited numbers of ebooks, audiobooks, movies and more. So NWRL invested in Hoopla, a digital materials service that offers more materials and several copies of each one.
“There are over a million items on Hoopla, and they’re available all the time,” Trojanowski said.
When COVID hit hard, NWRL libraries were all closed completely for five weeks. For five weeks after that, they were open for curbside pickup only. Then when libraries opened their doors to the public, programming was still limited to help contain the spread. However, most of those libraries have still bounced back and in Hallock particularly, the summer reading program and weekly Story Hour is back and going strong.
Trojanowski said the Karlstad City Council approved a 3 percent increase during its regular meeting on Monday, Aug. 1.
However, the Hallock City Council was missing two of its members during its Monday meeting, so tabled the request and will address it during the budget process.
The Kittson County Commissioners also tabled the request to discuss it at its budgeting committee.
By Anna Jauhola