Lake Elmo Library Board recommends joining county system

The Lake Elmo Library Board has recommended approval of an agreement for the library to rejoin the county system. (Gazette file photo)

The Lake Elmo Library Board approved a recommendation to rejoin the Washington County Library system during a special meeting May 3. The recommendation will be sent to the city council for approval prior to review by the Washington County Board of Commissioners.

An agreement was negotiated by Lake Elmo and Washington County staff, and first came before the library board April 12. According to the agreement, the Lake Elmo Library would become a branch of the county library system, and the county would install a self-checkout system similar to those at other library branches. The Lake Elmo location would be open a minimum of 40 hours per week, and the county would agree to hire all of the current library staff.

When the county took over the library as a branch, the agreement states, the library building and its contents — currently owned by the city of Lake Elmo — would be transferred to the county. The current value of the building is $420,000, said City Administrator Kristina Handt.

About 25 residents came to give public comments at the library board meeting. The majority of residents voiced a desire to rejoin the county library system, while others said they wanted to ensure the Lake Elmo Library continues.

Bill Michel is a Lake Elmo resident and the branch manager of the Maplewood library.

“You have no idea how many Lake Elmo residents I have talked to over the service desk about how frustrated they were over the situation with the Lake Elmo Library,” Michel said.

Resident Karen Ziemer said she was proud of the volunteers who have built the independent Lake Elmo Library.

“It’s a small town thing,” she said. “I’m really proud of what the people have done. I have nine grandchildren, and I take them to that library.”

The board completed a voluntary survey of residents and had 450 responses. The majority of the responses — 244 — said they strongly agreed that the Lake Elmo Library should join Washington County. About half — 224 — also said they strongly agreed that they wanted to see a library in Lake Elmo.

“I think the survey shows exactly what we heard tonight, that there is a strong desire from folks to be a part of the Washington County Library System and there is a strong desire from folks to have a library in downtown Lake Elmo,” said Julie Fliflet, a member of the city council who is liaison to the library board. “I think why we are here tonight is how can we get a win-win for both groups of constituents.”

Included in the proposed transfer to the county system, the agreement outlines a payment of $200,000 from the city’s library fund to pay for building upgrades. Handt told the board that the county intends to spend about $600,000, including costs to mitigate moisture in the basement and to install a new HVAC system.

The library board made four recommendations to change the agreement before sending the document to the Lake Elmo City Council for approval. Instead of the $200,000 transfer of funds, the board lowered the amount to $100,000. The board also included a provision that the library volunteers be given meaningful involvement in the county library branch and that the hours of operation would include some weeknight and weekend hours. The library board also asked to include a provision that if the county decides to close the branch, the city would receive the building and the contents of the building back.

The next step for the agreement is to come before the Lake Elmo City Council for approval. Handt said the council will discuss and possibly approve the agreement May 16. The council would then send the approved agreement to the Washington County Board of Commissioners.

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]