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County pays library system, would have lost access

Wadena County commissioners reluctantly agreed to allocate an extra $2,417 to Kitchigami Regional Library System in 2009 after discovering the county could face harsh consequences for failing to meet its obligations.

Commissioner Mary Harrison said she recently discovered the county was obligated to pay $90,587 in 2009, the same amount it paid for 2008, rather than the $88,170 it budgeted.

Kitchigami's joint powers agreement stipulates that every entity has to give no less than they did the year before, she said.

"If we do not come up with the extra $2,417 we basically are held to be in violation of our contract with the cities and the other counties and will be kicked out of the Kitchi library system," she said.

According to an e-mail sent to Harrison from Marian Ridge, director of KRLS, the county and its residents would not be eligible for services paid for with state dollars. There would be no mobile library service, no delivery, no KitchiCat, no interlibrary loans, no ability of residents to use any other library services in the state without paying a special fee for non-residents, no access to ELM databases and more. The Wadena City Library could have only been used by residents of the city of Wadena.

Minnesota Statute 134 outlines the requirements for participating in a regional library system, Ridge said.

Harrison contacted Wadena County Attorney Kyra Ladd about whether Kitchigami's joint powers agreement was affected by the state Legislature's suspension of maintenance of effort obligations, which require counties to maintain the amount of money they allocate. From what she understood from Ladd's answer was that it could be argued both ways, she said.

Harrison said that for $2,417 it wasn't worth the hassle. After the first of the year the county would be kicked out of the library system and it may or may not win a legal battle, she said.

The commissioners made some remarks toying with the idea of not paying the obligation.

"But if they kick us out, Mary, we would save $88,170," commented Chairman Orv Meyer about the amount the county had already budgeted for 2009.

Then the county would have absolutely no library, Harrison responded.

Commissioner Dave Schermerhorn joked, "I'm sure we have enough old books we could donate and put in a building someplace."

Books are the smallest part of a library's services now, Harrison said. Libraries also exist for computer use and for kids to do their homework after school.

Commissioner Lane Waldahl asked if Kitchigami was saying that kids in the county wouldn't be allowed to use the library if the county didn't make the payment.

"Boy, for PR, I would be a little nervous on denying a kid to use a library," he said.

Harrison said it didn't matter.

"We aren't a library anymore if we don't make our payment," she said.

She later added, "Yes, it's not good publicity for the library on their part, Lane, but you do not even want to think of the flack that would come down if this county let ourselves lose our library for $2,000."

In Ridge's e-mail to Harrison she said she wished the county had consulted her before "this oversight at the county took place."

Harrison said the board thought it had consulted Ridge about the matter when she visited the county board July 24.

"She did not indicate that we were contractually bound by the joint powers agreement to pay the $90,587 at that meeting, but it appears that we are," said Commissioner Bill Stearns.

The language requiring maintenance of effort in the joint powers agreement has been in place for many years, Ridge said in an interview after the board's discussion. The most recent revision to the agreement was in 1991 and the language has been in since before then.

The board did not tell her about the proposed $88,170 so she was not able to respond to it, Ridge said. She did not mislead them.

Ridge empathizes with the county's budget situation and what a difficult time it is to hear a request for additional dollars, she said. She appreciates the fact that commissioners remedied the amount.

The board decided to take the money from its 2009 allocation covering the cost of hiring defense attorneys for Child in Need of Protective Services and Termination of Parental Rights cases. Stearns suggested this fund because the county signed an agreement to cover these services that is less than what was originally budgeted.

The board unanimously agreed to approve the increase.

Kitchigami recently dropped the requirement that counties and cities pay the same as they did before from its joint powers agreement, Harrison said. It won't affect the 2009 budget, however.