Request amounts to $9,306 increase over 2013 allocation.

In its 2013 budget, the City of Crookston is allocating $204,599 to Crookston's branch of the Lake Agassiz Regional Library system. Last year, LARL asked for a 4.3 percent increase in the budget allocation from the city, and the city council granted that request.

As for 2014, LARL officials are hoping city officials and the council are in giving moods once again, as LARL has asked for a 4.6 percent funding increase from the city, which amounts to a $9,306 increase over the 2013 budgeted amount.

LARL asked for no increases from any city or county governments home to any of the 12 LARL branches from 2009 to 2012, LARL Director Liz Lynch told the Crookston City Council at a Ways & Means Committee meeting. She said LARL realized budgets were tight, and therefore tried to get by with static funding. Then, when expenses rose across the LARL system, LARL dipped into its reserves rather than ask county boards and city councils for increased funding.

"Unfortunately, we depleted our funds," Lynch said, which spurred last year's request for more funding, followed by the request for 2014 as well. She said it's likely that a couple more increases will be sought beyond 2014, too, in order to get the LARL budget fully back on track.

"In the meantime, we're trying to cut costs and keep expenses down," she said, adding that all 12 LARL signatories are being asked for increased budget allocations.

Things are in pretty good shape at the Crookston LARL branch. Chris Boike is on board as the new manager, with new assistant Jan Aamoth, and Heidi Whiting handling children's programming. The roof is only a few years old, and a new boiler was recently put in. The Crookston Friends of the Library is very active as well, contributing to various improvements at the Crookston facility. Most recently, money that was being set aside for a new interior and exterior security camera system was shifted toward the urgent need for a new boiler, but cameras are still being sought. The FOL recently approved new furniture for the library's reading area.

Ward 2 Council Member Dana Johnson, new to the Crookston Library Board, noted that Lynch is new to her position as well, and that she's trying to change the way LARL goes about the business of running its libraries.

"We're trying to do things differently," Johnson said, noting that per-capita spending in the LARL system is $2.79, well below the state average of $4.59 per capita in other public library systems. "We'd like to bring that up some here," Johnson said. "We're talking about reading and educating, after all."

At Large Council Member Wayne Melbye noted that the city pays the salary of a full-time library maintenance person, which is not included in LARL's budget numbers. Finance Director Angel Hoeffner added that local property tax revenue essentially funds the city's LARL budget allocation, so if the city increased its allocation it would likely have to come through an increase in the local levy.

"If we don't make increases (in the LARL contribution), the LARL board will have to look at cutting back services," Johnson said. Lynch added that if, for example, no additional dollars were allocated by the city for the Crookston LARL branch, reductions would likely follow specific to the Crookston facility, not system-wide.

Boike noted that LARL leaders are currently working on a three-year strategic plan, and that public forums will be scheduled in the coming months.

City council members and department heads are just about to embark on a detailed planning process in advance of approving a preliminary 2014 budget. Mayor Dave Genereux told Lynch that the council will certainly consider LARL's request. "We'll put that number in our budget and see what we can work through," he said.

Some numbers
According to Lynch:
• In 2012, Crookston customers visited the local library 78,806, and checked out 76,891 materials.
• Last year, computers at the Crookston branch were used to access the Internet 22,906 times.
• Crookston staff answered 3,510 reference questions in 2012.
• Crookston programs were attended by 4,548 customers in 2012.