Albert Lea library to be open on Fridays next year

Published 9:41 am Tuesday, December 9, 2014

City Council approves funding; next step is hiring staff

The Albert Lea Public Library will reopen on Fridays in 2015.

Though the date for reopening has not been set, the Albert Lea City Council on Monday authorized the library director to begin hiring the staff necessary for the additional hours, with the directive to open the “earliest possible date.”

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Second Ward Councilor Larry Baker motioned to approve the city’s $14.9 million budget and initially had stated he hoped the Friday library hours could begin at the beginning of January. After some discussion about whether staff would be able to advertise for and hire the help needed in a short three weeks, Baker adjusted his motion to ask it to happen as early as possible.

The vote came after more than 300 people submitted a petition in July requesting the council expand the hours of the library. The library has been opened for five days a week — Sundays through Thursdays — since 2010 because of budget cuts. The library is primarily for Albert Lea residents but is open to all residents within the Freeborn County boundaries.

The cost of having the library open one day a week was previously estimated at $25,000. Freeborn County commissioners have committed to paying one-third of the additional hours.

Many of the councilors said they had received calls supporting the effort.

The $14.9 million budget, including the request to add back Friday library hours, passed 7-0.

In a separate vote, the council approved a $5.96 million overall levy, which includes a 2.18 percent total increase.

The increase is less than a preliminary 3 percent increase passed in September.

It goes to support the city’s debt service levy of $1.2 million, which covers bond payments for infrastructure projects completed this year, including the street improvements in the north industrial park and the neighborhood improvement project in the 3rd Ward. There will not be an increase in the operating levy.

City Manager Chad Adams said for a $100,000 home, this equates to a $12 increase in taxes for the year.

The levy passed 6-1, with 3rd Ward Councilor George Marin voting against.

Marin said he has people in his ward who cannot afford even another dollar increase in the tax levy. He said the city cannot continue to raise taxes and hopes administration will look to cut in other areas to support infrastructure needs, including the reconstruction of Fifth Street in the 6th Ward.

“We may have to eliminate some positions that will free up dollars to where we need them in this economy,” Marin said.

Sixth Ward Councilor Al “Minnow” Brooks echoed the need for work in his ward, particularly on Fifth Street but noted he thought the council had made strides when compared to previous years.

Mayor Vern Rasmussen said there is a bigger question the community needs to ask. He said the council has put a lot of time and effort into infrastructure projects over the years. He said if the community thinks the council should slow that down, they need to let the council know.

“We continue to move ahead with trying to take care of the different needs in our community, but it does take money,” Rasmussen said.

The council also approved a property tax levy of $109,000 for the Albert Lea Housing and Redevelopment Authority and a 2.25 percent cost of living increase in 2015 for non-union employees.

Capital improvement projects slated for 2015 are the reconstruction of Lakeview Boulevard, the water and sewer project in the northwest part of the city, the South Broadway mill and overlay, the reconstruction of Virginia Place and the replacement of a fire pumper.

The council is slated to vote on its fee schedule and sewer and water rates at its Dec. 22 meeting.

Adams said there are no increases proposed for sewer rates, but a 9 percent overall increase in water rates.

Rasmussen expressed concern with this proposed increase and asked staff to consider creative alternatives to try to reduce this number.

Look to the Tribune on Wednesday for more about the Lakeview Boulevard reconstruction.