Hennepin County officials plan to use $2.4 million in Target Field ballpark sales tax revenue to reopen eight libraries early next year.
The addition to next year's proposed $2.1 billion county budget was offered Monday by County Administrator David Hough. The County Board unanimously approved the measure along with 15 other new budget items.
Budget amendments from the county administrator are part of the annual process leading up to the board's final vote on the 2021 budget on Dec. 15. Until then, commissioners will be able to make changes to the budget.
The eight Hennepin County Library branches that would reopen because of the funding are Linden Hills, Pierre Bottineau and Roosevelt in Minneapolis, and in Golden Valley, Long Lake, Minnetonka, Osseo and St. Bonifacius. The funding is expected to save about 35 jobs.
Reopening the eight libraries was part of the original 2021 budget, but Monday's action will fund the positions needed to expand service, Even without the amendment, the libraries would have reopened next year, but with severely reduced staffing and services.
The county's ballpark sales tax was created to pay off the debt on Target Field. Most of it goes to that, with the balance going to Minnesota Ballpark Authority operations, capital expenditures, the library system and youth sports grants.
"Today our organizing efforts paid off and county commissioners voted to stop layoffs of library workers," said Ali Fuhrman, president of AFSCME Local 2822, which represents library and other county workers. "We are thrilled by this news, but are also calling for an additional $2.5 million of ballpark funds earmarked for the Minnesota Ballpark Authority to be redirected to library services to bring back 66 library positions that were cut this summer."
The eight libraries have been closed since March to combat COVID-19, and the East Lake branch in Minneapolis has been closed since the end of May after it was damaged during unrest surrounding George Floyd's death.
The county's 32 other libraries have remained open with limited services.
Commissioner Jan Callison said she wanted to see data on how long library patrons are waiting to get books or if they are getting turned away on computer use.
Chad Helton, who started as the County Library's new director in August, said library officials have had almost no complaints about book access.
Next year's proposed county budget will be financed without an increase in the county's property tax levy, and is about $300 million less than this year's spending plan.