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Library board president asks for city referendum on funding

The president of the Hudson Area Joint Library Board on Monday night asked the City Council to consider holding a referendum on increasing tax support for the library.

Barbara Peterson laid out a scenario in which the joint library would revert to a municipal library at the start of 2014.

She said that allowing the library to be funded to the level of the county library levy would free residents from the current situation of being taxed doubly for library service, but having only half of the money come to the Hudson library.

This year, $280,968 in city taxes will be appropriated to the library, while city residents will pay a county library levy of $277,173.

The $277,173 won't increase funding for any library in the county, Peterson said, but will be used to lower the library tax rate for residents of other municipalities subject to the county library tax.

"That doesn't need to be the case next year," Peterson said.

She noted that the three other municipal partners in the joint library --the towns of Hudson and St. Joseph, and the village of North Hudson --- have filed notice that they intend to leave the library at the end of 2013.

They could choose to stay in the joint library, however, if the county agrees to lower its library levy to 70 percent of the cost of providing service to residents of municipalities that don't have a library.

"The lowest cost is for them to leave. We believe they will do that," Peterson said of the other municipal partners.

Under Peterson's scenario, tax funding for the Hudson library that has remained stagnant at about $712,000 (including county funding) for the last five years, would increase to $977,000 in 2014, if the city increased its funding for the library to the county rate.

Meanwhile, the total amount that city property owners are taxed for library services would drop by about $10,000, and all of the money would stay with the city library.

Reverting to a municipal library also would mean that Peterson, a town of St. Joseph resident, would no longer be on the library board.

She said that the additional money could be used to reopen the library on Mondays, restore the budget for book purchases that was cut by $25,000 this year, and eliminate the need to dip into the library's reserve funds.

The new municipal library board might also consider further expanding hours and opening on Sundays, she said.

Peterson said she wasn't asking for immediate action. She said she was presenting information for a decision on the library that the council would need to make later.

Council reaction

Alderpersons Mary Yacoub, Lori Bernard and Randy Morrissette II had questions and comments for Peterson.

In response to statements Peterson made about a 2011 survey indicating that two-thirds of residents were willing to pay more in taxes to fund the library, Yacoub wanted to know how many surveys were sent out and how many were returned.

Bernard asked how many of the respondents were city residents.

Library supporter Jeff Zais said city residents returned about 100 of the 200 written surveys that came in.

Bernard also expressed frustration that St. Croix County increased the reimbursement to library for service to non-residents to 100 percent of the cost. The rate was increased over a period of three years, beginning in 2009 when it was 71 percent. It increased to 85 percent in 2010, and to 100 percent in 2011.

Peterson presented information saying the county board has reaffirmed that the reimbursement, or tax, rate will remain at 100 percent.

The increase to 100 percent was significant because the municipal partners were exempt from the county library levy as long as they funded the Hudson Area Joint Library to the same level. That hasn't been the case.

In fact, total funding from the four municipal partners has remained flat at $629,025 for five years.

Mayor Alan Burchill said it was upsetting to him that the library board didn't ask the county board to return the reimbursement rate to 70 percent.

Peterson said library board members anticipated the municipal partners leaving, and if that happened, wanted the library to be reimbursed at 100 percent of the cost of providing service to their residents.

"If it had stayed at 70 percent, they wouldn't have left," Yacoub replied.

Bernard said, "Philosophically, I'm opposed to the city absorbing a tax that the county imposed."

City property owners, however, pay the county library tax, too, if the city's funding for the library doesn't match the county rate.

Peterson also was taken to task for what council members perceived as the library board's failure to seek private funding to purchase the present library building at the corner of Vine and First streets.

"When we purchased that building, we were never under the impression that the library was going to be a long-term tenant," Bernard said.

She said the plan, according to library supporters, was for the library to buy the building.

Yacoub said The Phipps Foundation had offered $500,000 to help pay for the building. She wanted to know why the library didn't take the money.

Zais said the offer was contingent upon voters of all four municipalities approving a referendum to buy and operate the building as a library. The referendum failed.

Peterson noted that the library did conduct a campaign for operating funds in 2012 that brought in a net of $23,662 from 333 donors. She said another campaign is planned for this year.

Alderperson John Hoggatt said the city needs to decide how the library will be structured in the year 2016.

"I think what we lack is a clear vision of what the library will be," he said.

Burchill lamented that if the library ceases to be a joint library, the city will again be solely responsible for providing service to area library users. About half of the library users come from surrounding municipalities, he said.

"It is half our responsibility, (but) we are going to get stuck with it," Burchill said.

"I don't feel stuck," Hoggatt replied. He said it was an opportunity to develop a broader vision for the library.

"We have to make plans," Burchill agreed later in the discussion.

Yacoub suggested planning for both possibilities of the library reverting to municipal library or remaining a joint library.

Peterson agreed that it was a good idea.

Yacoub and Morrissette also reiterated their frustration with library supporters for not actively fundraising to purchase the current library building.

"My kids use the library, too. I don't want to see it go away," Yacoub said. "But my frustration is legitimate."

Morrissette also wanted it known that he doesn't want to see the library close.

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.

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