Board president says library ‘starving’ from inadequate funding“To me, it is inexplicable how communities in one of the wealthiest counties in Wisconsin cannot do a better job of funding their library,” says Barbara Peterson, president of the Hudson Area Joint Library Board.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
Barbara Peterson, president of the Hudson Area Joint Library Board, returned to a new situation after a recent a trip to Nepal and India.
The town of Hudson in early October notified the library board that it intends to withdraw from the joint library at the end of 2013, unless there is a change in the funding requirement for the library.
Now the town of St. Joseph, which Peterson represents on the board, has given the same notice.
The towns are unhappy that their funding for the joint library must match the St. Croix County library levy for them to be exempt from the county library tax. The county has increased its library levy to 100 percent of municipal libraries’ costs of providing service to non-residents.
While Peterson was still abroad, Hudson Town Board Chairman Jeff Johnson criticized the library board for a vote early this year calling for the disbanding of the joint library. The comments were part of a Star-Observer story on the town of Hudson notifying the library board of its intent to leave.
Peterson, in a telephone interview last week, said Johnson didn’t tell the complete story about the board’s vote to disband the joint library and return it to a municipal library operated by the city of Hudson.
In September, the board voted 8-0 to rescind the earlier resolution and endorsed maintaining the joint library, she said.
The board reversed its earlier decision after it became clear that the four library partners -- the towns of Hudson and St. Joseph, village of Hudson and city of Hudson -- wanted the joint library to continue, according to Peterson.
“It is very discouraging to have these statements meant to diminish people,” she said regarding Johnson’s comments. “Any of us who are on the library board are there because we are trying to do the very best we can to help the library succeed.”
Johnson had questioned whether the local governments should have representatives on the joint library board who wanted to disband the library.
Peterson said their frustration was over obtaining adequate funding to run the library.
The library’s steering committee had spent a year and a half trying to plan the future of the library and address its financial challenges, she said.
With the four municipal partners each having the power to veto any increase in funding, the steering committee had despaired about ever having what it considers adequate revenue as a joint library.
The library’s funding has remained flat for the past three years, Peterson said.
Government per capita funding for the Hudson library is second lowest of 53 public libraries in northwestern Wisconsin. It received $24.23 per resident of the four member municipalities in local and county taxes in 2011.
The Bruce library had the lowest government funding at $19 per capita. The median funding was about $66 per capita.
The government funding for some neighboring libraries included Somerset at $70.53 per capita; River Falls, $72.84; Hammond, $84.35; New Richmond, $88.57; and Roberts, $126.69.
“To me, it is inexplicable how communities in one of the wealthiest counties in Wisconsin cannot do a better job of funding their library,” Peterson said.
“I know that this is a community that wants great efficiency. They want a very high level of service and they want it delivered at the lowest possible cost. In a sense, that is admirable. But right now, the library is really starving.”
Peterson said library employees have been “working their tails off” to maintain service with too few workers.
“They are getting worn out and discouraged,” she said.
Peterson added, “As a taxpayer, I’m appalled. I feel like I’m paying a pretty healthy chunk of taxes, and seeing so little of it going to the library is discouraging.”
Peterson reported learning recently from John Thompson, director of the Indianhead Library Federation, that it isn’t necessary for the Hudson Area Library to maintain a fund balance equal to three months of operational costs.
The library has been drawing down its fund balance by about $80,000 a year for the past three years to meet the increased expenses that came from moving to the new building at 700 First St.
Library officials were planning for significant cuts in 2013 thinking that most of the excess reserve funds had been used up, and that the library needed a reserve balance of $200,000.
Thompson reportedly advised spending more of the reserve. He said the library shouldn’t have to worry about cash flow since most of its revenue is approved and appropriated by local governments.
As a result, the 2013 library budget of roughly $800,000 being recommended by the board’s Finance Committee contains less onerous cuts than previously, Peterson said.
She said library officials have been talking about closing the library on Mondays and maintaining hours of 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Peterson said it is her understanding that the library partner municipalities are hoping to get legislation passed at the state level to reduce the funding level required for joint libraries to 70 percent of the county levy.
“If that were achieved, it wouldn’t be great funding, but it would be adequate funding,” she said.
The towns of Hudson and St. Joseph have they would rescind their decisions to withdraw from the joint library if the state Legislature acts before Aug. 31, 2013.