What Northfield Public Library Director Natalie Draper enjoys most about her role intertwines with the community she now serves.
Draper started in her position Feb. 1 and leads a staff of approximately two-dozen full- and part-time employees all while implementing strategic plans, developing strategic direction with the city’s Arts and Culture Commission and area artists and reaching out to the public.
Six weeks in, Draper senses the connection she desires between the library and Northfield’s public arts programming. As director, she also utilizes the 1% of arts funding, used to fund public arts projects within city limits.
Draper views public art, if done properly, to have a community-wide impact. She sees that impact for Millennium Park in Chicago, a gathering space shown to reduce crime in the immediate area. Draper is interested in installing interactive public art in Northfield and implementing a mural assistance program to foster its development.
“Public art really has the power to bring people together into spaces,” she said. “I think it gives a lot of sense of place and pride into the community. The possibilities with public art are literally limitless."
One of the other major components of Draper’s position is establishing the long-term vision of Northfield Public Library. To do so, she plans to work with the Library Board and community focus groups and reach out to seniors and Latinx communities.
“For being a small town, it doesn’t feel small,” Draper said of Northfield. “It feels very open to creative ideas.”
“The position itself was very appealing because it combined a really, really spectacular public library … but also being able to work with the public art program, because it’s kind of just starting,” she added.
Already, Northfield Public Library computers are being used to set up vaccine appointments and employment applications.
“The library is probably as big as it’s going to get in this building,” Draper said. “There are always space and technology needs that may present a challenge.”
The longtime Virginia-based public library official was selected to replace retired Director Teresa Jensen after a national search. Draper also prepares, submits and manages annual budgets and capital improvement requests, and is tasked with fostering staff growth and overseeing other responsibilities. Draper said some of the best moments she’s had during her library career have come through her work with the community in varying ways.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s my dream job. We have a really, really fantastic team here, wonderful staff, and I love working with them. The community has really welcomed me with open arms.”
Draper said the Public Library’s continuing presence during the pandemic, including the addition of home delivery and expanding access to e-programming, e-books and other items. shows NPL can adjust to even the most adverse situations while tending to the community’s needs.
“I think people think of us as being kind of staid institutions that don’t really change a lot, but I think what we’ve seen with 2020 is their ability to pivot very quickly and meet the community’s needs,” she said.
City Administrator Ben Martig, who appointed Draper for the position, noted he did so after a selection process that included the city's Library Board, Arts and Culture Commission, and the City Council. The council unanimously approved his recommendation late last year.
"We're really excited to have Natalie on board working with us," Martig said. "She brings a vast experience with her, both being a library director and having an involvement in the arts as well."
The city of Northfield is expected to receive $2.36 million in the latest round of federal funding approved earlier this month, legislation intended to help the United States recover economically from COVID-19.
The first phase of the expected two-part distribution is expected to be allocated to Northfield in mid-May, while the second round will come in May 2022. Municipalities would be eligible to spend the funds through 2024. For Northfield, the allocation is approximately $800,000 more than the $1.53 million the city received last year as part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES).
Administrator Ben Martig noted a main consideration in allocating funding will be how the city can assist households, small businesses and nonprofits that have faced revenue losses due to the pandemic. He expects funding to in part be dedicated to the hard-hit hospitality industry, a sector that has faced a deluge of canceled events and tourist trips due to the pandemic.
The money can come in the form of assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits to help respond to the public health emergency, to aid hard hit sectors, such as travel and hospitality and tourism, and to reimburse work performed by an eligible employee during the emergency with a $25,000 maximum per worker. Money can be given to replace revenue for the provision of government services impacted by COVID-19, or investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure. However, cities cannot use the funding to offset tax reductions, delay a tax or tax increase, or be deposited into any pension fund.
Mayor Rhonda Pownell is expected to form a council subcommittee to review potential project qualifications before bringing back any plans to the broader group for final approval. That expected process is similar to the subgroup the city used last year, a committee that included three councilors.
To Martig, the distributions the city made last year as part of the CARES Act “were well received” and stabilized the operations of many Northfield-based organizations grappling with business restrictions and public apprehension, based on COVID-19, a pandemic that so far has killed more than 540,000 Americans over the last 12 months.
The Northfield City Council allocated $300,000 of last year’s federal funding to business grants and $200,000 for nonprofit grants. The council allocated $145,000 of CARES funding to the Community Action Center to support approximately 3,750 families. In addition, councilors in August provided $75,000 to the city for work relating to downtown outdoor furnishings and equipment for added physical distancing during the pandemic, and $40,500 to Northfield Healthy Community Initiative to facilitate distance learning, including technological improvements.
Also, the city assisted Northfield Hospital and Clinics in purchasing online software to address an increase in virtual patient care and streaming and assisted HealthFinders and the Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Local Fiscal Recovery Fund
The recently passed $1.9 trillion federal COVID-19 relief bill includes $130 billions or local governments split evenly between municipalities and counties. City Administrator Ben Martig noted $65 billion is allocated to cities through a modified Community Development Block Grant formula, including $45.9 billion for cities over 50,000 in population and $19.5 billion for cities under 50,000 residents. Cities under 50,000 people are allocated $100 per capita.
The legislation expands unemployment benefits from the federal government through Sept. 6 at $300 a week, on top of what beneficiaries are getting through their state unemployment insurance program. The first $10,200 of jobless benefits accrued in 2020 would be non-taxable for households with incomes under $150,000. Additionally, the measure provides a 100% subsidy of COBRA health insurance premiums to ensure that laid-off workers can remain on their employer health plans at no cost through the end of September.
The legislation provides a direct payment of $1,400 for a single taxpayer, or $2,800 for a married couple that files jointly, plus $1,400 per dependent. Individuals earning up to $75,000 get the full amount, as would married couples with incomes up to $150,000. The bill increases the per-child tax break to $3,000 for every child age 6 to 17 and $3,600 for every child under the age of 6.
The bill also includes approximately $130 billion to schools for K-12 students, $28.6 billion for a new program dedicated to restaurants and bars hurt by the pandemic, $7.25 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, $50 billion to expand testing COVID-19, and $30 billion to help low-income households pay their rent and to assist the homeless.
The Northfield City Council is opting to close Bridge Square to motorists in the coming months but not the Fourth Street Bridge.
A unanimous council vote during a March 16 City Council meeting means the portion of Water Street from Bridge Square to the bridge will be closed. The timing of the closure is yet to be determined and will be decided by city staff.
In supporting the measure, Councilors Jessica Peterson White, Clarice Grenier Grabau and Jami Reister said the public feedback they received related to last year’s closure of the stretch to motorists has been positive.
The closure was originally made to accommodate the need for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic — a possibly ongoing issue — and included picnic tables and barricades, two features being discussed for this year as well. A cost for the plan has not been released.
After last year’s closure, the closure of the Fourth Street Bridge and addition of walkways, the council last September voted not to extend the traffic changes in that spot for the rest of the year. The council took action earlier in the summer to temporarily close the Fourth Street Bridge after learning that people were fishing on the bridge, blocking the sidewalk, not wearing a mask nor keeping a proper social distance to combat COVID-19. Councilor Brad Ness said he heard a “huge outcry” from people over the council’s past decision to close the bridge.
In other action, the council:
• Approved applying for a $68,000 Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Shade Tree Program grant to help pay for removal and replacement 100 ash trees on city property.
• Proclaimed April 4-10 to be National Library Week and waived late fines during those days.