by Rachel Minske
Elk River city staff and elected officials met Jan. 3 in a work session to discuss a proposed joint powers agreement with the Great River Regional Library System, which operates Elk River’s library.
The library system, which manages 32 libraries across six counties in central Minnesota, seeks to create a master joint powers agreement for all cities within its system, replacing individual agreements with varying language. The Elk River library is the system’s second largest branch.
The previous library branch agreement dates back to 2004.
The agreement includes terms regarding the library facility, equipment and furnishings, insurance and employees, among other things.
After the first draft of the joint powers agreement was created, 17 communities expressed concerns and met with Karen Pundsack, executive director of the GRRL system and staff in October to discuss proposed revisions to the agreement.
Mayor John Dietz said he attended the meeting, which was held in St. Cloud, alongside his wife and longtime Elk River Library Board member, Jayne, and City Administrator Cal Portner.
“I think with us having a library board we’re far ahead of other smaller communities that don’t have one,” Dietz said during a work session Jan. 3 at Elk River’s city hall. The Elk River Library Board is responsible for library building-related items including cleaning services, utilities, repair and maintenance of the building.
The GRRL system pays for books, educational materials and wages for the library employees.
“I think this is aimed at smaller libraries within the GRRL system,” he said of the agreement.
On Nov. 15, the GRRL Board of Trustees approved the various revisions and extended the deadline for cities to approve the new agreement to June 30.
“We appreciate the feedback received from all city representatives who reached out to us,” Pundsack wrote in a letter to Portner in November of last year.
“The recent revisions clarify areas that have caused confusion with our cities in the past,” she wrote in the letter. “This Library Branch Agreement ensures all of our cities are being held to the same standards for the facilities they provide. It also more clearly defines GRRL responsibilities.”
In the past, Dietz has expressed concerns over how much Elk River has been paying from its city levy dollars for library programs – more than any other city in the system. He reaffirmed those concerns again this week.
“The money we’re putting in is more than any other library in the system,” he said.
The city of Elk River annually provides $11,000 for programming.
Concerns about language remain
City officials expressed some concern over various points in the agreement, including a section regarding the library facility itself.
Part of the section reads: “The city, its employees and agents, will be allowed to access the said building in order to provide janitorial services and maintain the building.”
The section’s phrasing struck a chord with Dietz.
“You’re not going to tell us we will be ‘allowed’ to go into our own building,” he said.
The city of Elk River owns the library building.
New council member Nate Ovall raised questions about another part of the document relating to the termination of the agreement.
The section reads: “Upon termination of this Agreement by GRRL, (the city) shall be relieved of any further obligations to GRRL. Termination does not relieve the city of any current obligations to GRRL. Cities that terminate services can make no future claims against GRRL.”
“I don’t like waiving away future rights,” he said.
City staff, officials vocal about hours, programming
Those in attendance at the work session voiced opinions about other services offered by the library, too, including programming and hours of operation.
Dietz said he believes Elk River library hours should be extended as the current schedule can be confusing for residents. Library hours are currently 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. The library is closed on Sundays.
Dietz said the library should be open at 10 a.m. every day as the alternating hours are “confusing.” He said he’s interested in learning more about how much it would cost to open the library consistently each day.
Council member Jerry Olsen of Ward 1 said he recently took his granddaughter to the library on a Saturday. He said the building was full of children and his granddaughter had a “grand ol’ time” selecting books from the shelves.
“Saturday would be a grand time for story times,” he said, adding there’s a number of retired teachers in the community who may be interested in volunteering.
City officials did not make a resolution during the work session Jan. 3, but the city is required to sign off on the agreement by June 30.