The needs and wants of renovating the former First National Bank building into Wadena's new library are being reconsidered as it appears a sales tax that could have funded much of the project may not be an option for another two years.
The Wadena City Council made plans at the end of January to move ahead with seeking Local Option Sales Tax funds to pay for the renovation of the former bank building in Wadena. Approval for the .25% sales tax required Minnesota Legislature approval, but League of Minnesota Cities officials shared last week that there was a moratorium on those applications. Whether those applications will move ahead or not is expected to be determined in the next few weeks, Wadena City Administrator Janette Bower shared at a city council meeting May 12. Bower said with the session ending, it's unlikely the Legislature will take up approving the 20 applications for funding.
District 9A Rep. John Poston painted a brighter picture, saying he felt that when the special session started up June 12 that the sales tax question was a priority issue for him.
"I think the tax issues will be taken up," Poston said. "I think that's pretty high up on the priority list."
Poston said it was unfortunate how slow things were moving. He said with so many working remotely, the process of getting work done at the Legislature has been very "clunky."
For several years, the LOST tax has been a popular way to generate revenue across a wider swath of consumers rather than just taxing the local city residents. Funds can be used for infrastructure or building improvements after approval by the Legislature, a vote of city residents and the city council.
Bower was saddened to share that the LOST tax was likely not going to be an option until 2022. The city has been paying utilities on two buildings since the purchase of the First National Bank building, bringing some urgency to move into the bank building and sell the current library.
To get things going, the Wadena Library may be proceeding with it’s move to the former First National Bank building with a much more conservative renovation plan using the current funds. Wadena branch manager Renee Frethem said the January report showed the library had $712,000 to work with. The grand plan for the library comes at a cost of $2.4 million. Rather than the Cadillac option, they may have to go with the next best thing. That may mean they only make the first floor usable at this time. Even avoiding the basement doubles the footprint of the library from their current building.
Frethem indicated they should move ahead with as much as they can as soon as they can.
“I’m just worried that we are going to be going up in price as time goes on,” Frethem said.
Mayor George Deiss said another difficult part of this project, thanks to the effects of COVID-19, is that it’s difficult to ask people to donate right now.
“It’s not fair of us to ask people to donate in a time when our businesses are hurting,” Deiss said.
Deiss recommended the library board meet and move ahead with making improvements in phases. Council member Mark Lunde agreed that it was inappropriate to be asking for money at this time. He suggested the library might look at what they need rather than what they’d like or want.
Council member Wade Miller also agreed with reconsidering the project scope as there is a general lack of funding across the board.
Deiss said the library board would meet this week to come up with a plan for the next council meeting set for Tuesday, June 9 at 5 p.m.
The Wadena City Library is the fourth largest library in the Kitchigami Regional Library System (KRLS), serving a five-county region in north-central Minnesota. They serve a wide area around the city as well as the county, checking out about 70,000 items per year to area patrons.