Pauline Haass Library will not have to close after funding agreement ends
Village of Sussex — The Pauline Haass Library will not have to shut down, even temporarily, when the agreement between the village of Sussex and the town of Lisbon that funds the library is terminated at the end of this year, according to a state official.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit between the town and the library board that could cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars appears likely to continue even though the board will be out of business at the end of the year, according to a lawyer for the town.
The town board was expected at its Monday, June 24, meeting to vote to dissolve the agreement with the village that provides nearly $900,000 of the library's approximately $1.2 million annual budget. The meeting occurred after Lake Country Publications deadlines.
Town officials have anticipated that the two municipalities would begin negotiations over dividing the assets of the library because the 26-year-old, joint-municipal agreement requires the assets be divided "should termination of this agreement result in the closing of the library."
However, John De Bacher, director of library development for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, has told Lake Country Publications that the library does not have to be closed unless a court intervened.
De Bacher said the library can continue to operate if the village of Sussex is willing to provide an operating budget, staff and maintain the library according to state standards.
The village board has indicated its willingness to operate the library without town of Lisbon participation. However, village trustees will have to appoint a new library board, according to De Bacher.
De Bacher said the state was willing to allow the library to continue operations after the agreement was terminated because there are no precedent setting court decisions that address what happens when a joint-municipal library agreement was dissolved.
The two municipalities have not been able to agree on a new funding formula for the library after nearly four years of negotiations.
Lisbon Town Chairman Matt Gehrke insisted throughout the negotiations that Sussex pay a larger share of the operating costs because Sussex residents use the library more than town residents. The village contributes about $460,000 to library operations, the town about $420,000.
After two new supervisors were elected in April 2013, the five member town board was divided over whether to even consider a new agreement with village.
However, the town board became united against a new agreement after the library board filed a lawsuit seeking custody and control over 65 acres of farm land that Pauline Haass had donated to the town to be used for library purposes.
Earlier this month, Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge James R. Keiffer rejected a motion by a library board attorney asking for a ruling in favor of the library without further hearings.
According to court documents, Keiffer ruled on June 9 that there are "genuine issues of material fact in dispute" and scheduled a pretrial conference for Oct. 20.
Earlier this year, Keiffer ordered out-of-court mediation between the library and the town board.
However, attorneys for both sides say they cannot begin those negotiations until they have completed their work preparing for a trial that could be held later this year. However, it now appears unlikely that either a trail or mediation can be completed before the existing library board is dissolved at the end of the year.
So far, the library board has spent about $24,500 in legal fees as part of the lawsuit, according to Library Director Kathy Klager. Klager said there has been no discussions among library board members regarding whether they should continue with the lawsuit.
Town Attorney Katheryn Gutenkunst told Lake Country Publications that lawyers for the village and town should begin negotiations dissolving the agreement and dividing library assets as soon as possible in order to avoid further legal bills for either Sussex or Lisbon taxpayers.
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