By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press
NORTH MANKATO —
The planned 4.5 percent bump in proposed city property taxes for 2013 was trimmed by the North Mankato City Council Monday night, and the demise of the city's bookmobile may be the result.
The council voted to delay the planned purchase of a new bookmobile and slashed fuel and maintenance spending for the current traveling library, tentatively planning to discontinue the service sometime next year.
"I think we have to look hard at the bookmobile," said Councilman Bill Schindle, noting that Blue Earth County has decided to eliminate all support for the shared vehicle -- which provides library services to rural towns, day cares and residential facilities for the elderly.
Nicollet County has also made cuts in support for the North Mankato-owned bookmobile for service in rural parts of that county.
"We have to prioritize," Schindle said. "And I'm not sure the bookmobile should be one of our priorities."
Schindle suggested ending the service as soon as possible and transferring the library employee assigned to the bookmobile to the North Mankato Taylor Library, where she would ease staffing problems there. The bookmobile librarian could also set up a system where a crate of books could be compiled for employees of day cares, nursing homes and assisted living facilities to pick up.
"Dump the bookmobile altogether?" Councilwoman Diane Norland asked. "I wouldn't want to do that."
The council unanimously agreed to delay the purchase of a $70,000 used bookmobile to replace the aging vehicle currently being used. That decision doesn't have an immediate impact on the budget, because the vehicle purchase would have been financed through equipment certificates -- borrowed funds -- in the second half of 2013. But it's a purchase that would have indicated a long-term plan to continue providing the service.
"If we're going to invest in a new bookmobile, then we're in it for the long haul," Mayor Mark Dehen said.
And Dehen, Schindle and Councilman Bob Freyberg questioned the long-term demand for traditional books at a time when people are increasingly downloading books on e-readers.
"I'm just curious what the future's going to be for mobile libraries," Freyberg said, recounting the electronic reading habits of his grandchildren.
The council eventually settled on a 50 percent reduction in proposed spending for fuel, tires and maintenance for the bookmobile, saving $4,000. The city, with input from the Library Board, will assess the value of the service in the new year and possibly make the transition suggested by Schindle.
"It's going to be difficult down the road to fund everything when everybody else is pulling out," Freyberg said.
The decision by Blue Earth County to drop the service in that county means a $10,000 hit to the bookmobile's budget.
The $4,000 reduction cut for the bookmobile pares the proposed levy increase to 4.42 percent.
The remainder of the levy increase is driven partly by pay raises to employees -- 2 percent on Jan. 1 plus the 1 percent increase that took effect on July 1 (an increase that will cost twice as much in 2013 as in 2012, because it was in place for only half of this year). The city is also seeing a $40,000 increase in the police budget, where the salary for a new patrol officer hired mid-year will be paid for 12 months in 2013.