Washington County commissioners voted Tuesday to close the book on a long-running library dispute with Lake Elmo.
The board voted 5-0 to approve a new contract restoring the Lake Elmo library to the county library system next year, ending a six-year hiatus for the library that resulted from a dispute over hours and services.
The Lake Elmo City Council last month voted unanimously to return to the county system.
“I think we’ve found a good compromise,” said City Administrator Kristina Handt, who worked with the city’s library board to forge the new plan. The big gain for residents, she said, will be having restored access to programming and resources provided by the Metropolitan Library Service Agency (MELSA).
About 2,700 Lake Elmo residents have city library cards, she said. The east metro city has about 8,000 residents.
Lake Elmo checked out of the Washington County library system in January 2011 after months of deteriorating relations. Eighty volunteers built a city-owned library with donated books, the city hired a librarian and programs were established for literacy, writing, art appreciation and children’s summer reading.
But in 2014, the city signaled a desire to mend relations with the county.
The new agreement takes effect on Jan. 1, when the county will take over the city library and begin to operate it at least 40 hours a week. While that’s a reduction from 48 hours under city operation, the county has agreed to dedicate some of those hours to weeknights and weekends as preferred by residents.
Keith Ryskoski, the county’s library director, told commissioners that beginning July 1, Lake Elmo residents who want a county library card no longer will be charged a $60 fee. The county also agreed to provide electronic access to MELSA after Aug. 1, he said.
Commissioner Gary Kriesel, whose district includes Lake Elmo, commended Handt and County Administrator Molly O’Rourke for “negotiating an agreement built on trust.” Passionate Lake Elmo residents who built their city library “laid a good foundation” for the return to the county system, he said.
Handt said most Lake Elmo residents will see a $15 increase in their annual property taxes to return the library to county service, but beginning in 2018 the city no longer will assess a library levy.
In 2009, the county reduced library hours in Lake Elmo and two other cities while shifting diminishing resources to larger libraries. Lake Elmo and Lakeland lost eight hours a week at their libraries and Marine on St. Croix lost four, reducing them all to 20 hours a week.
Many residents reacted with anger, and Lake Elmo’s break with the county soon followed. Now, Handt said, the city looks forward to a renewed partnership with the county.