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Pauline Haass Library Board seeks control of library land in Lisbon

Town Board says it has sole control of land

Jan. 14, 2013

Town of Lisbon - The Town Board Thursday night agreed to extend for another year the agricultural lease on the Pauline Haass farm at Lake Five and Hickory Roads at about the same time that the Pauline Haass Library Board filed a legal notice that it is prepared to go to court in an effort to take control of the land.

The 63 acres was donated to the town by the Pauline Haass estate in a 1969 will for "the purpose of establishing and maintaining a free library in the Town of Lisbon."

The Town Board leases the farm land and uses the proceeds from the lease agreement to help pay for the town's share of debt service on a construction of the library. The lease agreement generates about $13,000 annually and debt service payments are generally about $100,000 a year, according to Town Administrator Jeff Musche.

The debt service and library operations are funded jointly by the town and the Village of Sussex.

The Town Board unanimously agreed on Jan. 10 to extend for another year its lease agreement with Triple K Farms of Hartland for $210 an acre, a $10 per acre increase over the previous one-year agreement that expired at the end of the year.

Library officials filed with the town on Jan. 2 a Notice of Claim that asserted the Town Board is violating state law and the intent of Haass's will by maintaining control of the land and using farm lease proceeds to pay a share of the town's library cost.

The notice asks the town to turn the land over to the Library Board.

Library Director Kathy Klager said state law provides any land bequeathed for library purposes must be under the custody and control of a library board.

She said the Notice of Claim reserves the Library Board's right to seek legal action if the town fails to turn the property over to the Library Board

Town Administrator Jeff Musche said the notice has been turned over to town lawyers and the town insurance agency.

Musche said he anticipates that a lawyer representing the insurance company will contact the town and advise the Town Board on how to respond to the claim.

Often, elected municipal officials vote to reject such claims and then formal legal proceedings can commence. State law requires anyone seeking to file a law suit against a Wisconsin municipality must file such a notice of claim, according to Musche.

Town Board Chairman Matt Gehrke declined to comment on the Library Board's action. Two town representatives on the Library Board, Supervisor Ryan Lippert and former supervisor Robert Williams, voted against the Library Board seeking the legal action, Gehrke noted.

For years, town officials have argued the land should remain in the custody of the town because the town has abided by the intent of the Haass estate and the state law stipulating such lands should be controlled by library boards was adopted after the will.

The town and village have been negotiating for the last two years a proposed new funding agreement. The existing long-term agreement will expire when the construction debt on the library is paid off which is expected to occur in 2014. After the debt is paid, the existing agreement reverts to a year-to-year contract.

Library officials said they need a longer-termed agreement in order to facilitate long-range programming and building plans.

Negotiations over a new agreement were halted last year pending the outcome of an Aug. 15 advisory referendum on whether town officials should consider consolidating with the Village of Sussex. The referendum was defeated by an 80-percent margin. The library negotiations have not resumed.

Gehkre has said any new agreement would have to provide that Sussex pay a bigger share of the library costs because more Sussex residents use the library than Town of Lisbon residents.

Gehrke has said if a new agreement is not reached by February, he will ask the Town of Board to consider terminating the existing agreement as soon as the construction debt is paid.

Meanwhile, Village of Sussex officials have said they are prepared to take over library operations if the town terminates the agreement.

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