Library funding falls shortThe Hudson Area Joint Library has been underfunded in recent years by its four member municipalities, who now find themselves in a predicament over how to bring the funding up to the level required by state law.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
The Hudson Area Joint Library has been underfunded in recent years by its four member municipalities, who now find themselves in a predicament over how to bring the funding up to the level required by state law.
A steering committee of the library board reportedly broke the news to the mayor of Hudson, president of the North Hudson Village Board and chairpersons of the Hudson and St. Joseph town boards at a Feb. 28 meeting.
Apparently, library officials concerned about a diminishing fund balance for operating the library were alerted to a forgotten provision in state law that requires municipalities that withdraw from the county library levy to fund their own library at the county rate.
St. Croix County levies a yearly library tax on property owners in municipalities that don’t have a library. The revenue is used to compensate libraries for users who come from outside of the municipalities that operate the library.
For 2012, the city of Hudson budgeted $278,910 for library support, while the level required by state law was $483,644, a shortfall of $204,734.
The other municipal partners also had funding shortfalls. For the town of Hudson, the funding gap was $113,971; for the town of St. Joseph, $63,855; and for the village of North Hudson, $33,110.
The Hudson City Council held a special meeting in a packed council chamber Monday night to discuss how to bring the library into compliance with the state requirement.
Mayor Alan Burchill said the city and partner municipalities won’t have to reimburse the library for the past shortages, but will need to abide by the state statutes beginning in 2013.
City Finance Director Neil Soltis presented four options for reaching the level of library funding required by the county and state law. They included continuing as a joint library, with and without an increase in city tax support for the library, and reverting to operating as a municipal library, with and without an increase in city funding.
Burchill said the council has some time to decide on a course of action. He asked the alderpersons if they wanted to discuss the complex issue at regular council meetings or schedule special meetings to consider it. The consensus appeared to be for holding special meetings.
Soltis pointed out that state statutes require counties to pay each library at least 70 percent of the cost of lending books and other items to non-residents. But St. Croix County had increased the reimbursement percentage from 70 percent in 2009 to 85 percent in 2010, to 100 percent currently.
The reason for the increase, Soltis said, is that county board members felt that rural towns without a library should pay the full cost of their residents using other municipalities’ libraries. The effect, however, was to increase the city of Hudson’s library funding obligation.
Soltis said the city would have a funding shortfall in the $50,000-to-$60,000 range if the reimbursement percentage had remained at 70 percent.
Alderperson Mary Yacoub asked if the county board could be persuaded to roll back the reimbursement percentage to 70 percent.
“They raised it,” Council President Lori Bernard commented, but Mayor Burchill wasn’t optimistic about the possibility.
If Hudson were to continue to operate the library as a joint library, but not increase its funding for it, city property owners would again pay a county library tax. Soltis projected the tax at $242,392 for the current year. That money would be divided among all the libraries in the county.
Total revenue for the library would drop to $656,519, a decrease of $119,121 from the current 2012 budget.
By increasing the city’s tax support for the library to $483,678, city property owners would no longer be obligated to pay the county library levy, and total library revenues would increase to $1,072,283.
Solis reported that if the joint library was disbanded and the city didn’t increase its tax support for it, the county would levy a library tax of $332,222 to be paid by city property owners. The Hudson library’s tax revenue would dip to $642,398, a decrease of $133,242 from current funding.
If the city were to disband the joint library and increase its library funding to $611,132, it would get an additional $443,103 in library support from the county, bringing total revenue to $1,054,235, Soltis reported.
Alderperson Rich Vanselow asked what would happen if the city simply closed the library, adding that he wasn’t advocating the move.
Soltis said city residents’ use of other libraries in the county would likely increase, increasing the county tax for library services that city residents would pay.
Mayor Burchill acknowledged after the meeting that he had said closing library was an option at the Feb. 28 meeting when municipal leaders were informed of the situation. He said he also added that it would be “a crime” to do that.
At Monday night’s meeting, Burchill said the city would be hard-pressed to increase its library funding under the current state-imposed levy limits for local governments.
Hudson was allowed just a $69,000 increase in its total tax levy for 2012, he noted. He said that any increased money for the library would have to be taken from other departments.
Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, a member of the state Legislature that enacted the levy limits, was in the audience for Monday night’s meeting. Knudson was mayor of Hudson in 2010 when the city purchased the building at 700 First St. to house the library and the city’s police department.
Numerous library supporters were also part of the standing-room-only crowd.
When Burchill asked for the council members’ thoughts on how to proceed, Bernard said the city’s municipal partners in the library should be asked if they are interested in continuing the joint library.
St. Joseph Town Chairman Dan Gavin was in attendance.
Bernard said the other municipalities, also subject to levy limits, might not be willing to increase their library funding. The county library levy isn’t subject to the state limits, she noted.
Alderperson Lee Wyland said the partner municipalities would have an interest in paying their tax dollars to the Hudson library instead of the county, which distributes the money throughout the county.
Alderperson John Hoggatt said his initial reaction was that disbanding the joint library, but not increasing city library funding, was the best option.