WORTHINGTON — Nobles County Library Director David Bradford appeared before county commissioners in a Wednesday morning work session to seek guidance in the wake of the failed W.E.L.L. project.

Bradford, in his position for 10 months, said many studies have been done over the past 18 years regarding library expansion, and a lot of information is already available.

“The numbers, of course, change and the prices change, and they all go up as you well know,” Bradford said. He suggested if the library had a concrete plan for its future, it could seek grants.

“What is reasonable to start investigating, and what isn’t worth the time?” he asked.

Commissioner Gene Metz, the delegate to the Library Board, said he didn’t want the library board to waste time on studies and planning if there wasn’t support among commissioners.

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“I didn’t want to see the library board spinning their wheels in a direction we won’t support,” he added.

Discussion Wednesday included the impending move of the Nobles County Historical Society space from the lower level of the War Memorial Building.

“Do we consider spending some money and remodeling down there in the short term?” asked County Administrator Tom Johnson.

Commissioner Bob Demuth Jr. said staffing was always a concern if the library was on two levels. He asked Bradford how a two-level library would work without adding staff.

“You could have collections down there, you could have offices down there,” Bradford responded. “Even with both levels, you’re talking 17,000 square feet, max, and that’s really not a long-term solution. The lowest we’ve come up with is 23,000 square feet long term.”

Bradford said children’s programming could not be in the basement. If commissioners want to use the current site, he added, they will need to buy additional land to make it work there.

“Libraries are an investment in the community,” he said. “If we had a concrete plan, we’d do some big community fundraising. We want to do something that has the backing of the county.”

Commissioner Justin Ahlers has never supported plans for a new library, and said with the current economic conditions, “we just need to stand our ground.”

Commissioner Matt Widboom suggested Bradford do a “complete reset evaluation of the library board and the relationship with the county board,” adding that the way the two boards function together has become “indescribable.” He spoke of a lack of function, and asked if the tail was wagging the dog or the dog was wagging the tail.

“Are we operating under a library board that has governing authority or are they in an advisory capacity that comes forward with direction and suggestions?” Widboom asked. “I think we really have to have a hard look between the (library) board and this board and who’s making the decisions, who’s coming up with the ideas.”

Commissioner Donald Linssen said the library has been on the drawing board for a long time, and there have been a lot of ups and downs.

“We’ve hung the carrot out there and pulled it back … a lot also,” Linssen said. “I support the library, but with the conditions we’re in today, I think we need to just motor on and see what happens in 2021.

“I wouldn’t vote to put a lot of money into this building,” he added. “If you look at the studies, it’s not the way to go.”

Bradford said the library is in need of a strategic plan. He addressed COVID’s impact on library usage by saying that numbers are down about a third, while the library’s hours also remain about 20% reduced.

When Bradford said modern libraries are less about paper books than programming and classes, Widboom suggested weeding out some services and perhaps partnering with other entities to do programming elsewhere.

“You have to figure out how to do it better; to serve the public better,” Widboom said.

Request made for new aerial fire truck

Worthington Fire Department members appeared before commissioners to discuss financing for a new ladder truck. The WFD’s aerial truck has been out of service due to safety issues, and the next nearest ladder truck is at Luverne.

“We don’t feel this is a want, it’s a need — and not just a city of Worthington need, but a county need,” said firefighter Chad Nixon. “We’re really looking for any avenue we can to protect not only the city of Worthington, but Nobles County.”

The department has replacement funds earmarked for each vehicle in its fleet, but its aerial truck became inoperable well before it was slated to be retired. It has $224,000 in the account for what will be a $1.2 million new aerial truck.

The department is seeking a new truck that would have better maneuverability. It's also considering buying versus leasing.

“Manufacturers say this is a 40-year investment,” Nixon said. “Unfortunately, we bought used earlier, and we bought somebody else’s problem. We don’t want to do that again.”

Fire Chief Jason Larson said if the truck was ordered soon, it would arrive sometime in December.

Ahlers shared concerns about contributing toward a new truck, saying that it would open the doors for every other fire department in the county to come and request financial assistance to purchase their next tanker, fire truck or rescue truck. He suggested the department seek loan and grant information from USDA Rural Development.

Early voting is steady

Auditor-Treasurer Joyce Jacobs, in making the case to hire additional temporary workers prior to a formal request coming to Tuesday’s board meeting, said 40 to 60 residents are coming into the Nobles County Government Center each day to cast their general election ballot early.

“We have to have two people over there working,” Jacobs said, adding that as of Tuesday, 533 people already voted, and another 250 voters have registered since the August primary.

“Absentee ballots are through the roof,” she said, noting 4,759 ballots were mailed out as of Tuesday.

Earlier this year, the board approved hiring up to eight temporary workers. Seven of those positions were filled, but one has since returned to a teaching job.

“The first four temps we’ve hired are very limited on the number of days they have left, because we can only use them for 67 days,” said Jacobs, who would like to extend their time to get through the election. “They’re all excellent and we wouldn’t lose any time doing training (for new temps). If we end up with any recounts, we need staff ready to roll.”

Jacobs hoped to have more information available for possible options on temp workers for Tuesday’s meeting.