Library issue pulled from ballot
WORTHINGTON — In unanimous agreement Tuesday morning, Nobles County commissioners voted to ask the city of Worthington not to include a referendum on November’s ballot seeking the public’s support to use Worthington’s former pool site for potential development of a new public library.
While all commissioners voiced support for the library plans, they agreed water is more important. The decision comes after the Minnesota Legislature developed a course of funding for Lewis & Clark that will require local units of government to pay for continued expansion of the water project.
Now, after years of discussion, site exploration and potential designs, the library issue will be placed on the back burner.
“The need for water from Lewis & Clark has kind of shifted my energy for resources,” said Commissioner Bob Demuth Jr. “At this point, water is more important than a new library.”
Demuth said he had concerns not only about water supply, but of the city’s 3-2 vote on the ballot question they developed.
“I’m disappointed that the city was not a unanimous vote,” he said, adding that this particular ballot referendum would only be a gauge for support from Worthington residents, not from the whole county.
Board Chairman Marv Zylstra said while the ballot measure would have asked residents whether they supported using the former pool site for development of a new library, the outcome would still not provide an indication of whether county residents supported construction of a facility.
The anticipated expenses to include the referendum on the ballot was also a concern for Zylstra. Estimated costs to place the measure on the ballot could run $30,000 to $50,000, with the expense of developing preliminary designs for a library on the pool site are also in the $30,000 to $50,000 range.
The former outdoor pool site, at the intersection of Liberty Drive and West Lake Avenue, was deemed the first choice among commissioners and the public, based on comments taken at the county’s informational display last August during the Nobles County Fair.
“Initially, I still support a library,” said Commissioner Don Linssen. “The thing that really sets me back is this Lewis & Clark bonding. We have no idea what the cost is. I think we have to prioritize.
“There are school issues out there that are also going to be put on the table,” he added. “Let’s be honest, people aren’t crazy about paying taxes. I think we have to be concerned about where our money is coming from and how we spend it.”
Commissioner Gene Metz cited a lack of support for a new library from outside the city limits as one of his reasons for wanting to delay a building project. Commissioner Matt Widboom said the county may have missed its opportunity.
“I think the timing, there’s never going to be a perfect time (to build it),” Widboom said. “It may have passed us years ago, but that’s not worth discussing now.”
Saying he couldn’t deny there is an issue with space for programming, he said “amazing things are being done in a small, square area. I hope we don’t wait for the perfect time to identify the need — the need is there. From a constituent standpoint, I would need other entities on board in a financial way, rather than just the county paying for it.”
In summarizing the discussion, Zylstra said, “Maybe we just take it off the burner for now — see where we’re at with Lewis & Clark. We probably still need to address some space issues in our current (library) building.”
“Being without water is a very serious issue,” added Linssen. “That has to go to the top of the list.”
Nobles County Library Director Julie Wellnitz, who was present for Tuesday’s county board discussion, issued a statement regarding the board’s decision. She said, “It is, of course, disappointing that the public will not have the opportunity for input on the site for a new library in the November election. Placing it on the November ballot was the next step in the process that we’ve been working diligently toward for over six years.
“I do understand what the county board and the taxpayers are up against with the Lewis and Clark legislation, but putting the site question on the ballot would not have committed the county to building right away,” she added. “I was appreciative that each of the county board members stated publicly that they do support the library project, as they have witnessed the need for more space, up-to-date technologies and various services and programs that we currently are incapable of accommodating.
“We’ve made a great deal of progress and we will continue to look into partnerships, sites, grant opportunities and alternative sources of funding,” Wellnitz said. “These kinds of decisions are always an opportunity to learn and make appropriate adjustments where need be. This project is too valuable to our community to let it go, so we will continue promoting the project with confidence that we’ll get there eventually.”
In other action, the board:
- Approved property tax abatements through the Nobles Home Initiative for the construction of three new homes within Nobles County. Requests approved following a public hearing included new homes for Dennis and Jean Meester of rural Bigelow, Aaron and Kia Nystrom of rural Worthington, and Jay and Lisa Milbrandt of rural Worthington.
- Approved a land transfer to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources of 144.71 acres of land in the northwest quarter of Section 27, Bigelow Township. This is the parcel purchased by Nobles County Pheasants Forever and funding partners earlier this year. The land had generated $3,006 in property taxes paid in 2014. The state’s payment in lieu of taxes on the parcel will be $6,294.89.
- Approved the following conditional use permits on recommendation of the Nobles County Planning Commission: Jesse Feeken, Rushmore, to construct a calf barn in Section 18, Ransom Township; Penning Brothers, Wilmont, to construct a calf barn and cattle finishing barn in Section 4, Summit Lake Township; Randy Hein, Brewster, to construct a hog barn in Section 28, Graham Lakes Township; Aaron Nystrom, Worthington, to construct a cattle barn in Section 14, Bigelow Township; and Nick Einck, Wilmont, to operate a home extended business selling used cars in Section 19, Bloom Township.
- Approved a Child Protection Public Defender contract with the Lynn A. Johnson Law Office, Slayton, at a rate of $90 per hour.
- Approved a contract renewal with Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership to continue to provide nuisance investigations for Nobles County Community Services/Public Health.
- Approved a request for the Lao Buddhist Temple to serve 3.2 beer during a June 21 event.
- Approved a parade permit request from the city of Brewster to close a portion of Nobles County State Aid Highways 1 and 14 on July 19 for Brewster Fun Days.
- Recognized Nobles County Community Services staff for the attaining 100 percent compliance for the second consecutive year in the Blue Cross Blue Shield Managed Care audit.
- Presented a certificate of appreciation to Michael Thies, Nobles County Community Services Financial Assistance Supervisor, who is retiring on June 30 after 17-plus years of service.
- Presented the May Excellence in Performance award to Stephani Diekmann, fiscal supervisor within Nobles County Community Services.
- Appointed Rita VanderKooi, Worthington, to a three-year term on the Nobles County Extension Committee.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.