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County asked to reduce library tax for Hudson-area municipalities

A decision by the St. Croix County Board on Aug. 7 regarding the county library levy will impact funding for the Hudson Area Joint Library.

The county board's Administrative Committee has recommended reducing the level of library funding required for the four municipal partners in the joint library.

Currently, the partners must fund the joint library to the same level the county levies for library services in order to avoid the county library tax.

Under the proposal before the county board, the required level of funding would be reduced to 70 percent for 2013 and 80 percent for 2014.

The library partners - the city of Hudson, village of North Hudson, and towns of Hudson and St. Joseph - learned early this year that they haven't been funding the joint library to the level needed to avoid the county tax.

Mayor Alan Burchill gave the Hudson City Council an update on the issue Monday night.

The mayor laid out four possible funding scenarios if the county board agrees to reduce the Hudson-area municipalities' library obligation.

If the library continues as a joint library, but the partners don't fund it to the required level, city residents will pay a total of $458,479 for library services, according to a cost study by city Finance Officer Neil Soltis.

The local library levy would be $278,910, and the county levy, $179,569. The library, meanwhile, would receive a total of $687,020 in tax revenue.

If the partners continued in the joint library, and increased their support for it to avoid the county library tax, city residents would pay a total library levy $395,454. The total tax revenue for the library would jump to $912,210, a sizeable increase from the library's 2012 budget of about $780,000.

Two other scenarios involved the Hudson library reverting to a municipal library. Both would result in a loss of revenue for the library.

Council President Rich Vanselow, the council's representative on the Library Board, said he favored the first option.

If the council increased library funding by $116,544 to avoid paying the county library tax, that money would have to come from other city departments, Vanselow said.

"That says to everybody that the library is more important than all those other services, and I'm saying it's not," he said.

Alderpersons Mary Yacoub and John Hoggatt said the other option would be for the city to hold a referendum on increasing the library levy by $116,544.

"What's the harm in going to referendum? If it doesn't pass, we go back to Option 1," Hoggatt said.

Yacoub agreed with him.

Burchill said it would grate him to have more than a $1 million in library taxes collected from the residents of library's municipal partners, but have only $687,000 come back to the library.

In the Finance Committee meeting that preceded the council meeting, Burchill said that if city residents rejected a referendum to increase library support, the council would have to consider if it wanted to operate a library at all.

"I think that's a question," he said.

Alderperson Lori Bernard said that she shared Vanselow's concern about shifting funding for other city services to the library.

Meanwhile, it's not a sure thing the county board will agree to reduce the library partners' tax obligation. The recommendation was approved by the Administrative Committee on a 3-2 vote.

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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