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Officials: Libraries' agreement should address funding mechanism

The City Council and the county commission each approved a one-year extension to the memorandum of understanding between Stutsman County and the city of Jamestown earlier this year.

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James River Valley Library System Director Joe Rector says Stutsman County is not providing its proper share of funding to cover the library system's operational costs.
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun
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JAMESTOWN – An agreement between the city and county to provide joint library services will need to address the funding mechanism of each entity, according to city and county officials.

Mayor Dwaine Heinrich said there is disparity between the resolution the City Council passed in 2008 and the language of the memorandum of understanding for the funding.

MORE STORIES RELATED TO JAMES RIVER VALLEY LIBRARY SYSTEM:
James River Valley Library System Director Joe Rector requested a $60,000 increase to the library system’s 2023 budget at a Stutsman County Commission meeting in June.

“I do not understand how the memorandum of understanding got drawn up that way and got signed that way because the resolution passed by the City Council agreeing to going into the memorandum of understanding stipulated that the funding was to stay the same from the city and the county as it was at the time the agreement was entered into,” he said.

The City Council and the county commission each a pproved a one-year extension to the memorandum of understanding between Stutsman County and the city of Jamestown earlier this year, extending by one year the date each entity may provide a notice of intent to withdraw.

Either party may withdraw from the agreement by providing a notice of intent to withdraw at least two years prior to the expiration of any five-year term. The current five-year term expires in 2024. The memorandum of understanding signed in March 2009 states that it is self-renewing for successive five-year terms.

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James River Valley Library System Director Joe Rector said the city of Jamestown provides 15 mills to the library system while Stutsman County provides 2.05 mills. He said Stutsman County provided 4 mills when the library system started providing joint library services, although the actual dollar amount never declined prior to the county’s budget cut in 2021.

Rector asked the Stutsman County Commission to increase the library system’s budget by $60,000, the amount reduced by the commission in the library system's budget in August of 2021. The James River Valley Library System Board of Directors approved a proposed budget for 2023 in June that includes a $60,000 increase from Stutsman County.

Rector said the county is providing 21% of the library system’s overall revenue in 2022 compared to 25% in the previous year.

“So now the city is providing 79% of the overall revenue,” he said. “Where that gets interesting is in the last census, 26.6% live in the rural county. If the amount of contribution breaks down roughly to the population, the county should be providing about 25%.”

Heinrich said when two parties enter into a partnership agreeing to provide a stated amount of funding, the agreement doesn’t work if one of the partners feels it has the authority to unilaterally decide it is going to reduce its funding without consulting the other entity.

“We want it to work but if it’s going to be a partnership, we have to have a little bit better ability to work together,” he said. “That is separate from the library board getting along and working together. That is just between the city and the county.”

Mark Klose, chair of the Stutsman County Commission, voted against the library system’s budget cut in August 2021. He said the county commission needs to be careful when it has a partner and some type of understanding to contribute x amount of dollars.

“Then you go saw the legs off that,” he said. “There probably should have been some discussion had on that.”

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He said how many mills the county needs to provide to the library system is not really clear. He said the value of a mill in 2009 was worth less than the value of a mill now.

“I understand the city’s position on the fact they are putting in x number of mills and they want their partner, which is mainly us and we are certainly a minority partner in this case, to contribute our share too,” he said.

A resolution that was approved by the Jamestown City Council in 2008 states “it is the intent that the taxes be levied for providing joining library service operations would be levied in the same manner and mills as currently levied by the city and county.”

In the memorandum of understanding between the city and county to provide joint library services, it states a joint library fund shall be established for the public library services in accordance with North Dakota Century Code 40-38-11.

The memorandum of understanding states:

“The City and the County each shall provide its share of funds for the joint services from the fund received under 40-38-02. Taxes within the service area outside the City of Jamestown may be levied with in the limits and according to the procedures provided for by law fora county library fund levy and taxes within the service area that is within city limits may be levied within the limits and according to the procedures provided by law for a city library fund levy.”

Klose said it made sense economically why the county commissioners voted to reduce the library system’s budget.

“I know the biggest point of contention here is keeping that other library open for business,” he said. “The feeling there is we are spending a lot of extra money on something that’s probably not cost effective because we have another library that’s open and why would you staff two of those.”

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Klose said he hopes the city and county can come to an agreement on extending a memorandum of understanding to provide joint library services. He said he asked Rector at a county commission meeting if the library board has had any discussion or thoughts on what will happen if the memorandum of understanding doesn’t get extended because he wants the board to be cognizant of what could happen if it isn’t extended.

Klose said it would cost the county more to operate its own library.

Joan Morris, a Stutsman County commissioner on the library board, said all entities need to discuss what the future of the library system is going to be. She said she wants to see it continue as a joint agreement but the funding mechanism needs to be addressed.

She said the library system was overfunded before the budget cut. She said the library system could do fundraisers like the James River Senior Citizens Center and Jamestown Rural Fire Department to help cover its operating expenses.

Heinrich said the only reason the memorandum of understanding was ever brought up is because of the appearance of an inability of the library board to work together properly. He said the thought process behind extending the memorandum of understanding was that 12 months should be long enough to learn if the library board is able to function as a viable board.

“I’m hoping that by March 2023 we have demonstrated evidence of that willingness to work together for the common good,” he said. “I would say if that is not the case, then as far as my position from the city, I would have to make a decision if I’m going to ask the council to ask the county to renegotiate the memorandum of understanding or notify the county of our intent to not renew the memorandum of understanding and revert to a city library.”

Morris is a voting member on the library board. Currently, Councilman David Schloegel sits in during the library board meetings but he is not a voting member.

Heinrich said there is nothing that prevents the City Council from appointing a councilman to the library board. He said the City Council has chosen to appoint members of the public to fill the positions instead.

The board consists of seven members. The city and county initially appointed one member to serve on the board and then each entity appointed three additional members each when they entered the memorandum of understanding in 2009.

If a memorandum of understanding is not reached between the city and county, Rector said it would be “heartbreaking” if the two entities split up.

“We’ve upped our game considerably over the last few years,” he said. “A big part of that is the new bookmobile that starts every morning when we come to use it. So we use it a lot more. So, we’ve expanded our reach so much into different areas of the city and the county and I would just hate to take a step back as if this never happened and I guess try to reinvent the wheel that is already working well.”

He said one of the biggest drawbacks if the two entities split is people who live outside city limits would not be able to use Alfred Dickey Public Library for free, and people in the city would not be able to use the Stutsman County Library for free.

Masaki Ova joined The Jamestown Sun in August 2021 as a reporter. He grew up on a farm near Pingree, N.D. He majored in communications at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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