City Takes First Step on Long Quest for New Library

Supporters of the Moorhead Public Library have been studying the shortcomings of the present structure at 118 Fifth St. S., and the list is a long one. From crumbling exterior walls to an HVAC system that needs replacement, and from inadequate meeting spaces to subpar restrooms, the 1962 structure has not scored well on the assessment.

On Monday night, the Moorhead City Council took the first step toward building a replacement. The council approved resolutions asking the Minnesota Legislature to consider giving the city authority to hold a public vote two years from now on a local sales tax of one-half percent. If passed – a distant step in the long process of seeking support – it would over 13 years raise $25.3 million to fund a not-yet-designed modern library along with meeting rooms, athletic areas, a new senior center and possibly a day care – the full-featured community center the city has dreamed of for several years. The total term of the tax would be 25 years, potentially providing support for other projects by the mid-2030s.

“We first asked the Legislature for permission to put it to a vote last year,” governmental affairs director Lisa Bode explained to council members. But, like similar requests from 20 other Minnesota cities, the request was not reviewed by the session.

Minnesota law required legislative approval for municipalities to consider local sales taxes. Forty-three cities already have such taxes, along with one sanitary district and four counties including Clay, where voters passed a measure in 2016 to fund the new correctional center. That brings sales tax charged in Moorhead to 7.38%, slightly less than Fargo’s 7.5%. While the city tax would raise that total above Moorhead’s neighbor, Bode pointed out that many purchases that are taxed in North Dakota are tax-free on the right side of the river.

Council members passed two resolutions. The first (from which newly sworn-in councilor Brad Gilbertson abstained) requests the Legislature’s approval for the local option sales tax; the second attests to the project’s regional significance – made clear by the Lake Agassiz Regional Library, which is headquartered here.

Bode and council member Shelly Carlson emphasized the library’s value to the larger community. “It’s not just for readers,” Carlson said. “It offers many services to the public, including underserved publics.” Both emphasized that the quest for the new library and community center – even if the local option tax proposal succeeds – will include extensive consultation with community groups before design plans would be developed.

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