Library services restored

The Kitchigami Regional Library Board voted unanimously Thursday to restore services to the 2005 levels at the Bemidji and Blackduck public libraries.

The Kitchigami Regional Library Board voted unanimously Thursday to restore services to the 2005 levels at the Bemidji and Blackduck public libraries.

According to KRL Director Marian Ridge, the funding for new books and periodicals was restored immediately after the vote. The libraries will revert back to the 2005 hours of operation on March 23.

"We're glad we got services back," said Bemidji City Manager David Minke, who attended the meeting Thursday night at the KRL Regional Office in Pine River.

The cities and Beltrami County have been at odds with the KRL since changes were made last year to the library system's funding policy. The funding from each of the five counties and nine cities that are part of KRL used to be pooled together and distributed to each library based on need. The recent funding change called for each library to receive funding based on how much the county and city it resides in pays.

Under the new policy, KRL requested that the city of Bemidji increase its funding by 58 percent and Beltrami County by 133 percent in order to maintain the same level of services as 2005. When the city and county governments did not agree to KRL's request, library services were reduced. Both the Blackduck and Bemidji public libraries experienced a reduction in hours, some staff positions were cut or had hours reduced, and no funding was made available for new materials and computer upgrades.


In February, the Bemidji and Blackduck city councils and the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners voted separately to provide the funds requested to restore services to the 2005 level, while at the same time passing a resolution announcing the intent to rescind the KRL master agreement.

Officials and library supporters had hoped that services could be restored by March 1. However, the KRL Board needed to agree to the restoration and members were not able to meet until Thursday.

At the meeting, the KRL Board agreed to restore services and accept the funding levels of $91,461 from Bemidji, $9,114 from Blackduck and $240,445 from Beltrami County. The KRL Board agreed to pro-rate the city and county's contributions to account for the nearly three months that services were reduced.

In a telephone interview Friday, Ridge said the job vacancies at the libraries have been posted and that KRL employees who lost their jobs have the opportunity to return. She said she has not heard if any of the cut employees plan to come back.

"They will have the first choice at the positions," she said.

On March 25, the KRL Board will hold a special meeting to discuss the county and city plans to look at leaving KRL and joining another regional library system in the state. The cities and county have formed a committee to work on the matter, and Ridge said that KRL is also looking into creating a similar committee of its own.

"We've asked that the subgroup of the county, Bemidji and Blackduck meet with a subgroup of the KRL Board," Minke said. "It's seems there's been a breakdown in communication and we need to repair it."

Marilyn Heltzer, county representative to the KRL Board, was sworn in at Thursday's meeting. Bemidji City Councilor Barb Meuers was also sworn in on Thursday as the city representative to the board.


Heltzer said that negotiations to leave the KRL system are part of a long state process that could take months to complete.

"It is a very difficult situation," she said. "The process they must go through is an arduous one laid out by state regulations, though not by state law."

Ridge added that there is a tumultuous history between KRL and the county and cities that those involved must get past before a resolution on the library issues can be reached.

"All the parties continue to hope we will reach an agreement that will provide the best services for the citizens of Beltrami County," she said.

Heltzer added, "I'm just glad the library services are being restored. I look forward to all of this working out in the future."

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