Library merger looks unlikely

The Stillwater Library Board and Stillwater City Council met on Tuesday, Oct. 29, to discuss Councilman Tom Weidner’s August budget question regarding the city library teaming up with the county library system to help with the library budget.

The meeting comes a few months after the question was asked because scheduling conflicts had appeared.

“We did meet in August to discuss the budget and we are here today to talk a bit more about the budget and possibly join with the county to run the library for us,” City Administrator Larry Hansen said. “The library board and county officials were willing to have that discussion, but the county didn’t want to lead that discussion since they didn’t want anyone to think they were taking over the library, though we do have county representatives here today.”

At the library meeting, Weidner had asked about increasing efficiencies to the library budget which represents 10.3 percent of the city budget or $1.2 million.
“We have a great library source in the city and residents do pay more taxes for it,” Library Board member Tom Corbett said. “But that doesn’t necessarily make it inefficient, and we’re always looking for ways to maximize our services with the support of the county library services and find ways to get more bang for our buck with the support of our foundation and private donations.”

Weidner asked if contracting out services for the library would be helpful, to which Library Director Lynne Bertalmio said that it would be muddy and not financially advantageous. She went on to cite a situation that occurred in Forest Lake before the library merged with the county system.

“Washington County isn’t unfamiliar with management contracts. There’d still be a contract for services, and a maintenance of effort, a figure that Stillwater would pay. Stillwater would still pay for the library, and to lose control and spend some more money would not be advantageous,” Bertalmio said.

“What we’ve discovered in our discussions with the county is that they operate under the same AFSCME (union) chapter, and I’m not convinced that they could provide services we provide at less cost and use fewer (full-time equivalent personnel), and essentially the county would have to bid to provide those services, and they’d be the only ones that could bid,” Corbett said.

“I think the logical question to this is whether there’s even an interest in the city council to pursue this option. I know I have no interest in putting the library out to bid, and I don’t know if the other council members do or not,” Mayor Ken Harycki said. “If we want to put it out to bid, we should ask other council members if we should do it and not waste a lot more time.”

“As a liaison to the library board I see no reason to put anything out for bid right now,” Councilman Doug Menikheim said. “It’s going as well as (it) can. They’re working on a strategic plan and I am challenging them again to continue to get their funding up. We’ve worked hard but I think we’ve got to work harder. These are times of doing more with less,  and my challenge to them is to ask us for as little as they need and figure out a way to increase revenue streams going forward.”

The library funds about 13 percent of its budget with private donations, the Stillwater Public Library Foundation and the library’s Friends@SPL group.

Contact Avery Cropp at avery.cropp@ecm-inc.com

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