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Cokato hesitates to move forward with library expansion

Sept. 21, 2009

By Lynda Jensen

COKATO, MN – After a fair amount of discussion, the Cokato City Council bumped plans to expand the Cokato Public Library for a month, amidst a myriad of financial issues.

Librarian Sheila Rieke and resident Mary Ackerman approached the council, asking for $20,000 in architect fees to explore the idea of library expansion. The money would also lay ground work for grant writing, if any was to be had.

The request came during an evening when the council had to make hardcore decisions about its overall budget, in the face of local government aid (LGA) shortfalls.

“I don’t know where the money will come from,” Council Member Butch Amundsen said. “I’m just being honest.”

Rieke and Ackerman were also hampered with the lack of definite plans when it came to about how much square footage the expansion would be, since the council peppered them with questions that had unknown answers.

Rieke noted that expansion per-square-foot numbers would be supplied by the architect. Council Member Wayne Murphy corrected her to say the expansion would be what the city could afford, and not what an architect could project.

Murphy noted that a $175 per square foot cost was quoted, and that this could be applied toward working numbers.

Council Member Butch Amundsen asked Rieke what the need was for library expansion, saying that the committee would be required to give direction to the architects about what was needed. “How much do you need?” he asked. She said she didn’t know until the numbers came in. “A want and need are two different things,” Amundsen told her.

Museum Director Mike Worcester noted that both the museum and library currently take up about an existing 5,200 square feet each level. This includes the Centennial Room, which is used as a larger community room, that would be either displaced or need to be otherwise addressed.

Rieke spoke of expanding both the museum and library into the parking lot. A figure was suggested of expanding the library to 10,000 square feet.

She noted that since the museum and library are together, this enhances the success of grant opportunities.

“I think that talking about doubling that building is ludicrous,” commented Council Member Butch Amundsen.

“I like the idea of doubling,” Council Member Gordy Erickson said. Council Member Carl Harju noted that the library could use computer space. Rieke noted that the two computer stations were always packed and booked up.

It was noted that leasing the old Dueber’s store would cost the city $600,000 on the low end, and that building new would cost $1.7 million.

At one point, Administrator Don Levens was asked to put together numbers between $600,000 and $1.7 million, but he protested that the architect figures would supply this more accurately, and be better than guesses on his part.

Members of the library committee are the following: Rieke, Ackerman, Worcester, Johnson, Chuck Miller and Bob Gasch.

The library expansion committee was formed more than a year ago as a way to proactively talk about long-term plans regarding the library, Administrator Don Levens noted after the meeting.

The city has been slowly working on this subject over time, purchasing the old Paulson Law Office building years ago, and then removing it for parking space, with the possibility of eventually using it toward the library.

It was decided to revisit the library issue again next month.

Council adopts 5.28% increase in levy

The council proceeded to hash over tough cuts in an already lean budget, ending up with a preliminary levy increase of 5.28 percent on a split vote 4-1, with Murphy voting against and the following voting in favor: Harju, Gordy Erickson, Amundsen and Mayor Bruce Johnson.

The total levy amount is $1,026,981, if no further cuts are made. The preliminary levy can be lowered, but not raised, until final numbers officially take effect in December.

The levy increase would accommodate a 3 percent increase to staff wages.

The other alternative was to dip in the city’s reserve, which was considered a poor idea.

Previously, the council met in a budget session a week ago to hash out a $57,192 shortfall from an LGA unallotment in December, with another shortfall of $48,363 that took place in July.

The state is allowing cities to levy for those fund cuts; although Cokato decided to only levy $13,730 out of the July cut, Clerk Peggy Carlson said.

“We may lose more,” Carlson added in reference to LGA. In fact, it’s possible the state could suddenly decide to cut its next LGA installment in December without warning, like it did last year, after budgets were certified and done.

The alternative for the council would be to pare away such entities as the Cokato Museum, the outdoor pool, or take away pay raises given to city staff in the past year, among other considerations – none of which were felt as being acceptable by most of the council.

Council Member Wayne Murphy pressed a number of new ideas during the workshop, including:

• making cuts to the museum, which he pointed out cost the city $75,000 per year.

• Murphy noted that the outdoor pool also costs $75,000 to operate. However, there is revenue from candy and tickets sold that amounts to between $12,000 and $14,000.

As far as the pool, Ken Bakke said in the past that it was “probably cheaper to swim in a lake.”


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