By Rachel Kytonen
The magic number is $17,000. That is what the Friends of the Cambridge Public Library is asking for from the city of Cambridge to cover a budget shortfall.
Karen Lee, treasurer of the Friends of the Cambridge Public Library, explained during the council meeting Tuesday, Feb. 21, the Cambridge Library is dealing with a $34,000 budget shortfall due to budget cuts from Isanti County.
Lee said the Friends group is asking the city to consider giving $17,000 to the library to cover the deficit, with the remaining $17,000 to be raised through fundraisers.
As of Feb. 21, Lee said $2,345 has been raised through fundraising efforts. She said $1,055 has been given by eight businesses; $1,055 has been given by 26 individuals and $235 has been raised by contributions being dropped in change jars located at the check out counter at the library.
Lee mentioned beginning Feb. 27, the library will be cutting its hours from 57 hours per week to 43.
Barbara Misselt, director of the East Central Regional Library System, said reducing hours was not an easy decision.
But she explained the library wouldn’t have really gained anything by cutting the very limited library services to Braham and Isanti.
A service library van stops in Braham for 30 minutes every two weeks, and the Isanti Library Link Site is only open for six hours a week on Wednesday.
“It’s very low cost to do service to those communities,” Misselt said.
Misselt explained Isanti County requested the “cuts” come from the Cambridge Library.
Misselt explained Isanti County owns the building that houses the Cambridge Library and the East Central Regional Library System headquarters. The headquarters is primarily located in the lower level of the building.
Misselt noted Isanti County did reduce the cost of the rent for leasing the lower level for its headquarters.
Cambridge Mayor Marlys Palmer noted the city does currently pay for the heat and electricity for the building, and said last year the city paid $27,000 for those costs.
Considerable discussion took place regarding $17,000 that is currently in the city budget designated for a library/senior center feasibility study.
Councilmember Bob Shogren asked Cambridge Librarian Nancy Dunbar how she would use the $17,000 if the city decide to donate it.
Dunbar said “it’s a tough question,” because the community would benefit by a new library building, but the library also needs to do what it can now to provide the level of services the community needs and expects.
“We are busier than ever,” Dunbar explained. “People come in daily to use the library to look for jobs.”
Councilmember Lisa Iverson said she would like to see the $17,000 go toward the feasibility study as planned.
Councilmember Chris Caulk noted the city has also had to lay off staff and not fill positions due to budget constraints. He felt there were too many unanswered questions at the moment to make an informed decision.
Following discussion, the council did not take any action, but said it would continue discussions with the library and continue to gather more information.