Library funding hinges on county board decisionDiscussion at the Aug. 14 City Council meeting was about a decision the St. Croix County board will make -- presumably soon -- that could potentially affect funding for the River Falls Public Library by about $55,600.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
Discussion at the Aug. 14 City Council meeting was about a decision the St. Croix County board will make -- presumably soon -- that could potentially affect funding for the River Falls Public Library by about $55,600.
River Falls City Administrator Scot Simpson said at the meeting: “We just want to make the council aware and the community aware that the county is considering how they deal with the county library tax.”
According to the discussion, research and newspaper stories on the topic: A March review of Hudson-area library funding revealed that the Hudson Area Joint Library had been underfunded by its member municipalities for a few years. The HAJL includes the city and town of Hudson and the villages of North Hudson and St. Joseph.
The collective funding shortage totals $415,670 for 2012. Hudson Mayor Alan Burchill said at a crowded March meeting that the city and its partner municipalities don’t have to reimburse for past shortages but must comply with the state-law-required funding beginning in 2013.
Especially with caps on property-tax levies, Hudson faces a big challenge in raising the funds to catch up.
The Hudson City Council and affected town boards have been meeting and poring over possible scenarios to resolve the underfunding issue.
The entities are considering a complicated mix of options that include fundraising for the library, closing the facility, holding a referendum vote about taxpayer funding and asking the county board to reduce the “library tax.”
A vote to decrease it would leave Hudson owing less to the county but would also reduce funding to the other 10 libraries in St. Croix County.
Simpson said at last week’s council meeting that how Wisconsin funds its library is unique. The state views library access as a right, and the law says municipalities with no library must pay at least 70% of the operating costs to whatever library its residents are using.
Usage is tracked through library-membership cards and calculated using a “cost per circulation” formula, which for River Falls is $2.92/ per non-resident circulation.
In 2009, the St. Croix County board decided to increase that funding to 85%. In 2010, it increased the non-resident reimbursement to 100%.
County Board members said any towns without a library should pay the full cost of their residents using other municipalities’ libraries.
Hudson city officials observed in a meeting that if the county had not increased the “library tax,” their shortfall would be much less. Requesting a reduction then became an option.
Simpson said at last week’s meeting it was the perfect time and venue to thank River Falls for its generous support of the local library, “I believe RF has one of the best libraries in the state of Wisconsin, of any size.”
Taxpayers support the RFPL to the tune of $750,000, with the remainder of the $1.1 million operating budget coming from state and county support.
A list on the St. Croix County web site shows the 11 libraries’ annual circulation and operating numbers projected for 2013, which show that River Falls invests the most in its library.
It also has the highest circulation listed for 2011 at 375,586 and the second-highest non-resident circulation at 65,568. The New Richmond library has the most non-resident circulation in St. Croix County, about 104,000.
According to a July 26 Hudson Star Observer story, the St. Croix County Board’s Administrative Committee recommended reducing the level of library funding required just for Hudson’s four municipal partners. This measure was scheduled for a vote at the board’s August meeting but pulled from the agenda.
At least one source said the item was pulled from the agenda because it was discovered that the law would not allow such selective reduction. Some expect the issue to resurface at the board’s Sept. 4 meeting.
Simpson said at the Aug. 14 council meeting, “Now we’re kind of back to square one.”
He and Library Director Nancy Miller acknowledged Hudson’s limited opportunities to solve the problem. They expressed respect for Hudson’s right to decide what to do but also remained hopeful that the St. Croix County Board would act wisely “as it has in the past.”
They said Wisconsin’s library-funding system is fair because each library receives compensation for the services it’s providing. Non-resident users, and the municipalities paying for them, get a good deal since the funding system pays only for the library’s operating cost, not for meeting rooms, special programs or capital expenses.
Miller was asked at the City Council meeting what would “have to go” if the county voted to reduce the tax.
She replied she hadn’t wanted to think about it but said the only way to spend that much less would be to potentially lay off a staff member and reduce hours, for example by closing on Sundays or opening later.
Council Member David Cronk asked if the city should write a letter or take some kind of action. Simpson replied that so far, he and Miller have been communicating about the issue on the city’s behalf.
He said they’d been watching to see how the county board worked it out and had wanted to make the members aware of where things stand.
Anyone interested can get more information about the board, its supervisory districts and its meeting agendas and minutes from St. Croix County’s web site, www.co.saint-croix.wi.us.
Videos of both Hudson and River Falls City Council meetings may be found on the respective cities’ websites.