There has been a great deal of justified community concern and involvement about Library funding in recent months. Libraries are a vital public investment. Their health and welfare are intrinsically linked to the overall health and success of our residents and our City. I believe that we should be working to improve and expand library services and that we are right to resist closing libraries or limiting services in any way.
I also appreciate the enormous pressure on the library board to make responsible decisions based on the funds they have available. Clearly this is a complex situation and serious issue worthy of the most informed and careful decision-making.
All of this came into focus for the City Council this month during our budget deliberations and at our final budget meeting where we approved the budget on December 11.
Throughout that process, and for the meeting on the 11th, there were three major goals I wanted the Council to accomplish:
1. Allocate enough "emergency" or “bridge” library funds for 2007 so that the Board would not be forced to sell or close any libraries, and could reopen the two recently renovated libraries (East Lake and North Regional) without cutting hours at any other community libraries.
2. Have the City Council make a firm commitment to be part of finding a long term on-going funding solution.
3. Preserve the option for the Library Board to follow through with plans and commitments to renovate community libraries based on what the voters approved with the library referendum vote of 2000.
I am hopeful that we were able to accomplish that at our meeting, although I understand that not everyone will agree that we did and that ultimately the Library Board will make their own decisions based on our actions. I do know that accomplishing as much as we did was not easy and was not without controversy.
I personally am especially proud to have crafted the compromise and motion that ultimately succeeding in reallocating an additional $105,000 to libraries, the amount that the Library Board has said it will take to keep open all neighborhood libraries in 2007. These funds came from three sources: $35,000 from the “City Hall Meet and Greet” program, $35,000 from street renovation and $35,000 from public safety fuel costs. I also supported the $1.1 million that the Ways and Means committee had already identified in additional funding for the libraries. I was one of the six Council Members who voted to make $250,000 of those 1.1 million “ongoing” rather than “one-time” dollars. That motion did not prevail meaning that all the additional funds we approved were for one time use only.
I also supported stipulations and staff directions that require this issue to return in to the City Council at least four times in the first half of 2007 including for updates by January 30th, 2007, within two weeks of the closing of the 2007 State of Minnesota legislative session, and after the two already established Advisory Groups complete their work.
We also requested that the Library Board incorporate a community engagement process in 2007 for related decisions and assigned both City Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) staff and Finance staff to work with Library Board of Trustees and Library staff as they develop a strategic plan for maintaining a sustainable library system. The Finance staff will work with the City Attorney's office to examine the financial impact of making the Library Board a department of the City. The CPED report will come back to the Community Development Committee by May 1, 2007. A financial report regarding making the Library Board a city department will be given to the Ways & Means/Budget Committee, the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, the Library Advisory Committee, and the Minneapolis Library Board by March 1, 2007.
While all of this may look like micromanaging, I think it also shows that the Council is very concerned and plans to be involved. The fact that we have required at least 3 of our Committees to review this issue before June is very significant and I believe demonstrates our commitment to work (with the community and other concerned government partners) on finding a more permanent solution in the first half of next year. These will not only offer Council Members, but also community members, an opportunity to learn about and influence what kinds of solutions are being considered and will be implemented.
I am also glad that we were able to find this additional money for libraries, while leaving library capital dollars untouched. This means that they are still available for physical improvements to community libraries. I hope that the Library Board will use this $1,205,000 in new funding to keep all of our libraries open next year while long term solutions can be developed well before the 2008 budget. If you would like to contact your representatives on the Library Board and encourage them to keep all libraries open, you can find their contact information here.
Overwhelming numbers of residents called and emailed my colleagues and me in support of the libraries, helping make libraries the most visible issue in this budget cycle.
I look forward to the upcoming discussions between the Council, the Library Board, Hennepin County, the Library Advisory Committee and the Legislature, which I hope will lay out some concrete proposals for long-term solutions for funding our library system, and I hope that the public stays as engaged as they have been so far.