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East Grand Forks hires new librarian, but open jobs there remain

East Grand Forks officials agreed at the outset of the pandemic not to replace a city librarian. Even as the Campbell Library incrementally reopens, the job remains unfilled.

Campbell Library
East Grand Forks' Campbell Library.
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East Grand Forks officials readily agreed to replace a retired librarian, but a similar job has remained open for more than a year.

City Council members voted unanimously on Tuesday to hire Linnea Benton as a librarian at the city’s Campbell Library. Benton is set to replace Melody Larson , who worked there for 43 years. But still in limbo is a “public services librarian” position at the library, which has had money set aside for it each year since 2017 but hasn’t been occupied since June 2020.

“It is still in the budget, hasn’t been filled,” Charlotte Helgeson, the library’s director, said Wednesday. “That’s where it’s at.”

Related: "This is one I'm willing to cut': East Grand Forks Council split on proposal to replace librarian

In May 2020, as the pandemic was hitting its first peak in the Grand Cities area and the library was reducing in-person services, council members voted not to advertise the still-open job. The library is now open about 41 hours each week: 9-5 on Mondays and Fridays, 10-7 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 10-5 on Wednesdays. Library leaders want to hire more people so they can be open more often and put together more programming.

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“We’re trying to open up a little bit more and bring things in,” Helgeson said, “but it’s pretty hard with what we’re dealing with around here.”

The library is budgeted for four full-time jobs, seven part-time jobs and an IT worker whose salary it splits with East Grand Forks Water & Light. When Benton takes over for Larson, that will mean the only open full-time job is the public services librarian one. Currently, three of the seven part-time positions are vacant -- two of them were vacated recently as school started, and the other has been vacant since late spring.

Library board members hope to fill two of those jobs, and they’ve submitted a $750,000 budget proposal to East Grand Forks administrators as the city works to put together a 2022 citywide budget. That figure encompasses salaries for each job at the library, even the unfilled ones, plus money for programming, utilities, and maintenance of the building and the collections within it.

City Council members are expected to take a look at a preliminary 2022 spending plan at their next meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 14. At a council meeting in July , city staff presented a tentative budget that would increase the city’s property tax revenue by 5%, which would probably mean a 2-3% increase in residents’ actual property taxes.

New Greenway rules finalized

In related news, East Grand Forks City Council members on Tuesday approved a new set of rules governing the Greenway, a park that sits alongside the Red River and Red Lake River. The changes, in effect, make it easier for East Grand Forks police to ding people who drive snowmobiles and other vehicles off marked trails there . Council members last month agreed to increase the fees residents pay to maintain the Greenway trail systems.

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Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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