As the proposal meanders toward a second vote, East Grand Forks City Council members are still split about replacing a librarian who quit near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The council voted 5-2 in May of 2020 not to allow staff at the Campbell Library to solicit applications for an open public services librarian job there, but the gradual resumption of everyday life has pushed library officials to ask again at the behest of Mayor Steve Gander. Council member Dale Helms, who represents the council on the city’s library board and was one of two votes in favor of hiring a replacement librarian last spring, noted on Tuesday that council members breezily OK'd plans to replace an assistant fire chief, a firefighter and an engineer earlier that evening.

“It isn’t any different than hiring an assistant fire chief,” Helms told council members. “I’d like to see you get behind the library and support this position and make this happen because you have read in the paper and heard from people how important the library is, so I’d just like to see you get behind this and make this happen.”

Council member Marc DeMers, who was skeptical of the replacement plan last go-round, said he puts a higher importance on those jobs, all of which are in East Grand Forks’ fire department, and predicted that the number of people patronizing the library won’t go down.

“We know that payroll is our number one expense,” DeMers said, claiming that the job, which carries an annual salary between $62,000 and $81,000, would cost between $85,000 and $100,000 each year after benefits. “The only way we can keep the budget down for our taxpayers is to watch our payroll, and this is one that I’m willing to cut.”

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The position has not, technically, been cut – it’s still accounted for in East Grand Forks’ 2021 budget and the few years preceding it, but, naturally, the money set aside for it since last spring hasn’t left the city’s bank account because no one has held the job. Still, DeMers said “cutting” that position was one of the smartest budget moves the city has made in a while.

And council member Clarence Vetter said he wasn’t on board with adding the position when it was first approved in 2017.

“It’s not like it’s been in the budget for 10 years,” Vetter said. “I know that I wasn’t in favor of the position two, three years ago when we were talking about it at the budget, and I didn’t vote for it back then. I’m still not convinced that we need this position, either.”

That addition came at the expense of two part-time jobs – a volunteer coordinator and an administrative aide – which meant the total payroll increase was about $30,000 each year, Charlotte Helgeson, the library’s executive director, estimated in a call with the Herald.

It’s unclear exactly when council members might vote again on filling the position. City policy requires that a second vote on the same proposal be brought forward by someone who voted against it the first time. That would seemingly mean that DeMers, Vetter or council members Mark Olstad or Tim Riopelle would need to propose refilling the position because they all voted against it last spring. Council member Brian Larson had yet to be elected to the council then. Helms and now-former council member Chad Grassel voted in favor.

In related news, council members:

  • Unanimously OK'd an agreement between East Grand Forks and Atlanta, Ga.-based Convergent Nonprofit Solutions that would pay the company between $31,000 and $40,000 to put together a feasibility student for a planned fundraising campaign for the city’s long-hoped-for renovations to ice rinks and baseball diamonds. The study aims to gauge how much money the city could raise from private donors for renovations to the East Grand Forks Civic Center, VFW Memorial Arena and Stauss Park that would cost at least $13.42 million, according to estimates put together by city staff last summer.

  • Approved a trio of requests from Fire Chief Jeff Boushee, who asked for permission to begin looking for a replacement assistant fire chief, engineer and a firefighter.