The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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May 18, 2011

Bookmobile cutback to be considered by Blue Earth County

NORTH MANKATO — Bookmobile lovers in Blue Earth County nursing homes, day cares, home schools and Head Starts are probably going to be feeling the hit of tight government budgets next year, maybe even later this summer.

Blue Earth County is hoping to cut its contribution to the mobile library from about $35,000 to $10,000 and is proposing eliminating the specialized stops at old folks homes and kid-heavy facilities.

“We have to look at the whole budget virtually every year these days because revenues are not going up and some of the expenses are,” said Blue Earth County Administrator Bob Meyer.

A meeting is scheduled for this afternoon between county officials and representatives of North Mankato. The city operates the bookmobile in Blue Earth and Nicollet counties, with each county covering about half of the $70,000 cost.

Blue Earth County notified the city earlier this month that it was considering the steep reduction in its contribution for 2012 and may seek to begin cutting its contribution after July 1, if possible.

“As we look across the library budget, we see the potential for a deficit if we don’t make some adjustments,” Meyer said.

Tim Hayes, the county’s director of library services, wrote in a letter to North Mankato that staff reviewed all of the stops in Blue Earth County, including the number of patrons and the amount of materials checked out. The county’s proposal is to cut its contribution by about 70 percent and eliminate all stops except single offerings in Good Thunder, Garden City, Amboy, Vernon Center, Pemberton and St. Clair — cities without public libraries.

The idea is to keep the bookmobile within reach of county residents, even if it won’t come to the doorstep of day cares and nursing homes. Those sorts of facilities in Mankato would still have access to the Blue Earth County Library at Main Street and Riverfront Drive.

“A centralized stop in the smaller communities is what we’re trying to preserve,” Meyer said.

North Mankato City Administrator Wendell Sande said the county’s proposal probably is workable. Right now, the North Mankato Taylor Library runs the bookmobile on a three-week rotation, with Nicollet and Blue Earth counties each having about the same number of stops and the vehicle spending seven and a half days in each county.

With the proposed smaller contribution from Blue Earth County, it would get two days of service in the three-week rotation — probably enough to cover single stops every three weeks in the six towns the county hopes to continue to serve.

The city wants to talk more with the county, including about the interest bookmobile staff have heard from day cares, home schools and Head Start facilities not now being served, Sande said. And the county’s interest in scaling back services as soon as July could be a problem.

“We need to discuss that with them because we’ve got the summer schedule set and we wouldn’t want to change that at this late date,” he said.

But Sande said he understands Blue Earth County’s predicament.

“Everybody is reluctant to cut back on important services,” he said. “It’s the budget dilemma of the current time.”

Meyer noted that no final decisions have been made by the County Board about the future of bookmobile service in the county. But with local governments facing likely reductions in aid from the cash-strapped Legislature, the county is being cautious about any spending commitments.

“We just wanted to get the discussion rolling,” Meyer said.

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