Erik Burgess, Published January 27 2014
Moorhead council rejects request for library funds; reduced hours start SaturdayMOORHEAD – If you didn’t go to the public library here Sunday, you missed your last opportunity to do so, at least for this year.
The City Council on Monday, deadlocked in a tie vote, did not approve extra funding needed to keep the library’s regular hours this year. Starting Saturday, the library will have shortened weekday hours and will not open on Sundays.
For residents like Edie Kritzberger, it means fewer hours to browse books and DVDs, use public computers or hang out with the grandkids on lazy Sunday afternoons.
“They offer so much for the kids, and it educates them,” said Kritzberger, who attended Monday’s meeting.
The Moorhead Public Library, part of the Lake Agassiz Regional Library system, had asked the city for $716,535 in the 2014 budget, or $40,805 more than last year.
The City Council didn’t include that increase when it passed a budget, and with Monday’s tie vote, it failed to give the library a one-time payment of $40,805. Six votes were needed to approve the payment, which would have come from the city’s general reserves.
Starting next week, the library will now be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, opening an hour later and closing an hour earlier, according to a memo from Liz Lynch, regional library director. It will be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays. Lynch’s memo does not say what the Saturday hours will be.
Council members Mari Dailey, Heidi Durand, Brenda Elmer and Chuck Hendrickson voted to give the library a one-time payment of $40,805.
Nancy Otto, Jim Haney, Mike Hulett and Steve Gehrtz voted against it.
Saying she was inundated with complaints from residents, Durand led the charge to offer the one-time payment to the library.
“I’ve never received this many emails about any topic as long as I’ve been on the council,” Durand said. “They continue to come in every day, saying, ‘Fund our library. Please don’t close it down.’ ”
But City Manager Michael Redlinger warned that the council shouldn’t use reserve money to fund a yearly expense, and some council members feared that the payment wouldn’t really be “one-time.”
Redlinger said the city increased its funding to the library by $50,000, or 8 percent, for the 2013 budget but was unable to find the revenue to budget for an additional 6 percent increase for this year.
“Suffice to say, our budget is extremely, extremely tight,” Redlinger said.
Council members who voted against the one-time payment argued that other city departments were either staying flat or being cut 5 percent.
“The library is a much-needed service and so much appreciated in our community,” Otto said. “Used by many, many people, there’s no doubt. But to be quite frank, so many of our departments have stayed flat.”
Laura Fasick, who teaches English at Minnesota State University Moorhead, said she understood the “very tight financial times” within City Hall, but she asked council members to make a “wise investment” in their constituents.
“There are so many ways in which the library helps every citizen, every resident,” Fasick said.
Gehrtz said he understood the importance of the library but ultimately argued that the budget needs to be maintained.
“Just a point of clarification: We’re not closing the library,” he said. “I don’t think anyone wants to close the library. It’s just a reduction in hours.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518