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Beltrami County commissioners cut $15,000 from library budget

Beltrami County commissioners voted 4-0 Tuesday to approve $15,000 less in operational funding for the Kitchigami Regional Library System for 2012 than it provided in 2011. Commissioner Richard Anderson, who was sworn in at the start of the meeting, abstained.

The $15,000 reduction is roughly one-third of the cut the county board supported month.

"My true-to-heart is that we have to either evolve or die, and I really feel that library services need to make some evolution here," said Commissioner Jim Lucachick, who made the motion.

The board last month supported a KRLS budget of $265,165, the minimum amount the county is certified to approve through Maintenance of Effort requirements, instead of $309,841, this year's funding level.

The $15,000 cut will impact library services in the county. While the specific cuts are not yet known -- the KRLS board will meet Thursday --the mobile library will likely be acutely affected. The mobile library provides biweekly service to rural communities including Pinewood, Debs, Red Lake, Kelliher and Waskish.

In response to the county board's actions last month, Marion Ridge, KRLS director, presented to the board eight budget options for 2012. The most feasible options with cost savings included cutting the mobile library, which operates at a cost of $18,121 a year.

Lucachick, who currently serves on the KRLS board on behalf of Beltrami County, said he appreciated that Ridge presented more than two options.

"If we don't have options, it's really hard to make that decision," he said. "For me, this makes it a whole bunch clearer."

Chairman Joe Vene said county commissioners are all friends of the library, but the county must develop a budget that is responsive to the budget.

Wayne Gretzky once said something along the lines that hockey players need to play where the puck is going to be, not where it is at that moment, Vene said.

"We're in dire times," he said, noting that the state could be facing a $6 billion deficit.

Of the eight possibilities presented to the board, the most favorable to the county board appeared to be the discontinuation of the mobile library without a replacement program. Most of the options that included a replacement program -- such as books by mail or electronic kiosks -- cost more than the mobile library itself.

The elimination of the mobile library would save $18,121. If Beltrami County was to seek savings totaling the full $45,000 cited last month, possible actions would include cutting hours at the Bemidji and Blackduck libraries, a four-day furlough for both libraries' staffs and reducing their book budgets.

The KRLS is a consolidated, regional public library system that provides services to Cass, Crow Wing, Hubbard and Wadena counties through a mobile library and nine branch libraries. The budget system is set up so 100 percent of the operating dollars provided by a governmental agency stay local. So, for instance, any cuts that Beltrami County makes to its operational contribution affects the library services within only Beltrami County.