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Town of Hudson gives notice of intent to leave joint library

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The town of Hudson has notified the board of the Hudson Area Joint Library of its intent to withdraw from the library at the end of 2013.

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But the notice from the Hudson Town Board also says it could change its mind, and asks for the right to rescind the action prior to Aug. 31, 2013.

The notice is dated Oct. 2. The Star-Observer learned about it last Thursday.

Town Chairman Jeff Johnson said in a phone call Friday that the town board would prefer to continue in the joint library, but the level of funding for it required by St. Croix County makes it prohibitive.

"We have no choice. We don't have any room in our levy to raise it to meet what the county is at," Johnson said.

Over a period of two years, the county board increased its library levy to 100 percent of the cost of lending materials to non-residents of municipalities that have libraries.

Previously, the tax on property owners from municipalities that don't have a library was 70 percent of the cost of circulation to non-residents.

State law also requires municipalities that have a library to fund it to the same level of the county levy in order to be exempt from county levy.

In early 2012, it came to the attention of local officials that the four municipal members of the Hudson Area Library -- the city of Hudson, village of North Hudson and towns of Hudson and St. Joseph -- hadn't been funding the library to even the 70 percent level.

As a result, property owners in the four municipalities, beginning in 2013, will have to pay the county library levy, as well as fund their own public library.

It means that residents of the four municipalities will pay an estimated total of about $570,000 in county library taxes, but only about $83,000 of that money will come back to the Hudson Area Library.

"We can't afford to meet the threshold that the county has at 100 percent," Johnson said. "We struggled to get up to the 70 percent where we should have been 'til they raised it."

With the tight state control on increases in municipal levies, the town of Hudson would have to take money out of its roads budget or someplace else to increase its library funding to the level required by the county, Johnson said.

He said the town would have to come up with an additional $150,000 in library funding, on top of the $183,000 it will contribute to the Hudson Area Library in 2013, to be exempt from the county library levy.

An estimate by City Finance Officer Neil Soltis in late August had the number at an additional $120,000 for the town.

Because the town hasn't increased its funding of the Hudson Area Library to the level of the county library levy, its property owners will pay a total of about $154,000 in additional taxes to the county in 2013.

Johnson said the municipal members of the Hudson Area Library are hoping to convince the St. Croix County Board to reduce the county library levy to 70 percent again. They might be able to live with 80 percent, he said.

"The county has to get off that 100 percent figure because all it is going to do is be continuously more money for libraries," he said. "The county is just going to throw them this money and say, all right, go find a way to spend it. How the h--- can you do that when we're all living with these budget constraints?"

County Board Chairman Daryl Standafer has maintained that keeping the levy at 100 percent is a matter of tax equity.

"A lot of us finally came to the conclusion that it was just unfair for city residents to subsidize rural circulation areas," Standafer said in a phone call to Star-Observer in early September.

It isn't fair for village of Roberts residents, for example, to pay for library service for town of Warren residents, Standafer said.

Johnson said the Hudson Area Library members also will attempt to convince the Legislature to change a law that exempts the county library tax from state levy limits, but not joint libraries.

"We've got two ways of doing it, getting the county to lower the reimbursement rate or getting the state to change the defect in their levy limit," Johnson said.

Library board resolution

Johnson called attention to the Joint Library Board's passage of a resolution earlier this year calling for the disbanding of the joint library.

If that happens, it will revert to being a municipal library operated by the city of Hudson alone.

"My question to the other heads of the local units of government was, how can you have representatives on the Library Board with the stated position of doing away with the joint library?" Johnson said. "Isn't that kind of counterproductive?"

He said the reason the Library Board wants to disband the joint library is that it believes it would be easier to pressure the City Council for increased funding.

Library Board President Barbara Peterson of the town of St. Joseph is in India doing volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity, and was unavailable for comment.

Library budget

Meanwhile, the Library Board is grappling with a $52,000 reduction in expenditures in 2013.

The municipal partners ordered no increase in tax revenue for the library next year, and the library has run out of excess reserve funds that it has used to cushion the budget in past years.

The Library Board approved $801,135 in expenditures for 2013 when it met in August, down from $853,297 predicted for this year.

Total tax and other revenue for 2013 is projected at $776,135.

The budget cuts for 2013 would be worse if not for $25,000 brought in by a Bridge the Gap fundraising drive conducted earlier this year.

Library Director Linda Donaldson said she has proposed closing the library on Mondays as a way to reduce spending.

Her preliminary budget includes a $25,000 reduction in book purchases (from $75,000 this year to $50,000 in 2013) and spending half as much for magazines and other periodicals (from $8,000 to $4,000).

Donaldson said she also would have to cut staff hours significantly.

She has suggested charging rental fees for high-demand DVDs and books to generate some additional revenue.

The Library Board's Finance Committee was to meet Wednesday morning to further discuss the 2013 budget.

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Randy Hanson
Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.
(715) 426-1066
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