At a time of financial uncertainty as the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down or severely curtailed many businesses, the Great River Regional Library (GRRL) is taking steps to lessen the impact on its six member counties – Benton, Morrison, Stearns, Sherburne, Todd and Wright
The GRRL board of directors met May 19 and decided to decrease the burden on the signatory members by cashing in some of its operating reserves, which had risen to eight months of operating capital.
“We had decided before all this COVID-19 stuff happened to commit $100,000 out of reserves and earmark it for the 2021 budget,” Potter said. “We had about eight months of reserves in place and that is a little high. Our investment returns were much higher. The CDs (Certificates of Deposit) the library had were earning a 0.9 percent return and, all of the sudden, it jumped to 2.8 percent. We’ve got a long list of CDs. Even with the $100,000 we took out to put toward the 2021 budget, we still had more than seven months of reserves left, so we decided that, given the situation we’re facing with COVID-19, we needed to give the member counties a break and put more into the budget.”
The decision was made to cash in a $247,000 CD to apply to the 2021 budget to bring the total to $347,000 to reduce the costs for the signatories. The result is that, despite the budget going up because of union contracts, the cost to member counties will go down in 2021.
For Wright County, it translates into a reduction of $16,300 from the 2020 budget – making Wright County’s share of the 2021 budget costs $2,116,500.
The formula for funding the GRRL has three components – population, tax capacity and borrower numbers. Wright County has more borrowers than any other member in the GRRL despite being second in population to Stearns County. Of the 33 branches in the GRRL system, eight of them are in Wright County – Annandale, Buffalo, Clearwater, Cokato, Delano, Howard Lake, Monticello and St. Michael
The GRRL has been forced to evolve over the years as technology has changed how people receive their information, but has thrived while other library systems have struggled to make the adjustment. Potter said that the GRRL’s digital library has more user transactions than its print library and expects to see that disparity grow in the future.
Attempts to keep the county funding for the GRRL flat or reduced is not going to be a one-time event. The current plan is to cash in another CD at some point to apply to the 2022 budget, bringing the operating reserves down to 5½ months, which has been in the works before COVID-19 began dominating the daily lives of so many.
“This has been a while coming, but I anticipate we will have level or lower budget for at least the next couple of years,” Potter said. “The Great River Regional Library is the envy of every other library system in the state. Our cost of operation is about 25 percent less than any other library system in Minnesota. It’s not even close. Libraries are a core function of government. We need to provide educational opportunities for our residents, especially our young people. A lot of work by the member counties has been taken to make this the best system it can be and it shows – both with our cost of operation and the number of people who use it.”