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Library board has a new president

Rich O'Connor, left, reluctantly accepted the position of president of the Hudson Area Joint Library Board at the board's July 16 meeting. Dave Ostby, right, was elected vice president. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)

Rich O'Connor reluctantly became president of the Hudson Area Joint Library Board at its meeting on July 16.

"I guess if nobody else will do this, somebody has got to do it," O'Connor said after Dave Ostby nominated him for the position.

O'Connor, who has represented the city of Hudson on the eight-member board since November 2011, was the only person nominated, and elected with no opposing votes.

He returned the favor to Ostby, a town of Hudson representative, by nominating him for vice president. Ostby was elected to that position without any opposing votes, too.

The leadership of the library board was up in the air after the former president, Barbara Peterson of the town of St. Joseph, declined the nomination for president at the board's June meeting.

In a phone call last week, Peterson said she had intended to serve another year as president, but then the state Legislature passed a bill exempting joint libraries from county library levies. Gov. Scott Walker signed the bill into law in June.

Previously, residents of municipalities that support a joint library were required to pay a county library levy, too, if the municipal support for the joint library didn't match or exceed the county levy.

"It became clear to me that there was little possibility of any change in the funding level (for the library) for the foreseeable future," Peterson said.

She said there are other things she can do to make a difference in the world, and that she doesn't want to continue to devote the time to the library that she has if an increase in funding isn't possible.

The total tax support for the library from the four municipal partners has remained at $629,025 for the past five years.

This year, residents of the municipalities were required to pay the county library levy in addition to supporting the joint library because funding for the joint library didn't match the county levy.

"Until those who are in civic leadership value the library and believe it is a place for investment, I don't see the situation changing," Peterson said.

She said the library board is left with figuring out what cuts to make because revenue isn't keeping up with rising expenses.

State Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, has a different view of the issue.

He said in a phone call Monday that because of a loophole in the state levy-limit law, counties were allowed to increase their library levies without restraint.

Statewide levies for library purposes rose 24.6 percent between 2009 and 2012, while county levies for all purposes increased 3.8 percent during that time, according information from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau that Knudson provided.

Knudson said St. Croix County's library levy increased 40 percent in one year, and saw another increase the next year.

He said the leaders of the four municipalities that operate the Hudson library begged him and State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, to draft legislation to exempt joint libraries from county levies -- and they succeeded in getting it adopted.

Hudson Mayor Alan Burchill was one of the local leaders who asked for the legislation.

"I appreciate your efforts to alleviate the burden that was placed on the residents of the city through the county board action to increase the reimbursement percentage for non-resident library circulation from 70 percent to 100 percent," Burchill wrote in a June 4 letter to Knudson. "While the county board has the ability to take this action without levy limit implications, the city is required to comply with the levy limits."

Burchill said the city would have had to increase the tax revenue going to the library by $267,000 in order to be exempt from the county library levy, and that would have required a 3.5 percent cut in funding to other departments.

Knudson said the joint library structure is the most efficient library structure in the state. But joint libraries were being penalized for their efficiency before the recent change in the law, he said.

"I think we have a good library. It could be better, but on the other hand, it is better than it has been," Knudson said.

Peterson, who said she will serve out her term on the library board that expires at the end of May 2014, welcomed O'Connor's election as board president.

She noted that O'Connor is a former Minnesota state legislator, a financial advisor, the president of the Hudson Hospital Foundation and has been a successful fundraiser in the past.

Peterson missed the July 16 meeting to attend her mother-in-law's funeral in northwestern Minnesota. School district representative Dan Koch also was absent.

Those in attendance were O'Connor, Ostby, Karen Homeier, Hudson; Marion Shaw, town of Hudson; Hudson City Council President Rich Vanselow and Curt Weese, village of North Hudson.

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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