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Local library could see fewer programs under Senate proposal

BEMIDJI — Local officials fear the Bemidji Public Library would host fewer events under a funding proposal moving through the state Senate.

Paul Ericsson, the Bemidji Public Library branch manager, said the Senate’s $1 million proposed appropriation to the state’s 12 regional library systems in 2014 and 2015 would hurt the local library. The House bill, which passed of its floor Friday, sustains the previous level of funding at $3 million per fiscal year.

The provisions are included in the omnibus legacy finance bill, a mix of bills dedicated toward projects of cultural and environmental significance across the state. The House bill totals $538 million.

The Kitchigami Regional Library System, which includes the Bemidji Public Library, is receiving $186,486 in the fiscal year 2013, according to a fact sheet from the library system that urges constituents to contact legislators about proposed funding reductions.

In the 2013 fiscal year, Bemidji Public Library received $35,000 in legacy funds, according to an email from Ericsson.

The library can only use legacy funds for programming and not general operations, Ericsson said. He said a reduction in state funds would affect events like the Bemidji Library Book Festival, the largest event for which the branch receives legacy dollars.

"But we do a wide variety of programs throughout the year just at our Bemidji branch that are funded through the legacy amendment," Ericsson said. "If it’s as deep as what’s being proposed, all of our programming is going to be cut back proportionately that amount."

In 2008, Minnesota voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which raised the state sales tax three-eighths of 1 percent. Proceeds from the increase have helped pay to preserve wildlife, investments in parks and trails, protect waterways, as well as fund cultural heritage and arts programs.

Ericsson said the Legacy amendment was a boon to the Bemidji Public Library.

"We had story time programs for children; we had maybe one or two events a year for adults. And that’s it," Ericsson said of the library before the legacy amendment was passed. "And so now we’re able to do a couple of events a month, plus a large series like the book festival and the poetry slam series and things like that."

The full Senate was scheduled to take up the legacy bill, authored by Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, on Wednesday night. Elaine Keefe, a lobbyist representing the Minnesota Library Association said Wednesday morning she didn’t expect the library appropriation to be amended during that debate.

A joint House and Senate committee will start meeting to hammer out differences between the bills as early as Thursday, Keefe said.

"And obviously from our perspective, we’re hoping that the House prevails and that we keep our $3 million per year figure," she said.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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