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Lisbon Town Board ends library agreement with Sussex

June 25, 2014

Town of Lisbon — After more than an hour of intense discussions with town residents, the town board on Monday, June 23, unanimously voted to terminate the 27-year-old joint municipal library agreement with the village of Sussex that funds most of the operations of the Pauline Haass Library.

The town contributes about $426,000 annually to library operations, while the village adds another $468,000 to the library's approximately $1.2 million budget. Funds from Waukesha County and other revenue sources provide the remainder of the library's revenues.

The library will not be forced to close when the funding agreement, created in 1987, ends Dec. 31. Sussex intends to take over library operations, and some village officials have pledged to maintain the existing level of services.

Town residents will be allowed to continue to use the Pauline Haass library, along with other library facilities in Waukesha County, but they will have to pay a county library tax, estimated to be about 26 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation.

Nearly two dozen residents attended the meeting, with nine of them speaking in favor of continuing the agreement and five speaking against it. Town board members spent nearly an hour in a sometimes-emotional discussion with town residents about the pros and cons of continuing the agreement.

Before last week's meeting, a consensus had developed among the town board members to terminate the agreement because of its costs, a lawsuit filed against the town by the library board, and the results of the April municipal elections.

Two new board members — Steven Panten and Hannah Heinritz — were elected to the board after campaigning against the library agreement.

Some of the residents who attended the meeting were part of a last-ditch effort by the Friends of the Library to save the funding agreement.

Slap in the face

Former library board President Emil Glodoski, a town resident, suggested the library will be forced to reduce services if the agreement is not renewed.

"The library will take a hit," he said.

"This is a slap in the face to Sussex. It will set back for a generation — maybe more than a generation — relationships between Lisbon and Sussex," he added.

Some of the town residents argued that the potential savings to them — possibly as much as a $100 — by paying the county library tax compared to the cost of the library agreement was not worth the risk of losing services provided by the library.

"The amount of money is minimal," said Karen Murphy, "We need to keep our communities together."

Some of the residents asserted that the late Pauline Haass would not have approved of the town board severing the agreement with Sussex.

However, another former library board president, Robert Williams, noted that Haass donated the land and about $250,000 in cash for the town board, not the village, to determine the best use of the land and money for library purposes.

Williams, a former town supervisor, emphasized that town residents would be allowed to continue to use the library.

Town resident Gary Gehlback added that by terminating the agreement the town was making available additional funds that could be used for purposes other than a library.

Why end agreement?

After the discussion, each of the five members of the Town Board outlined their reasons for ending the agreement.

Heinritz said the town and village have different philosophies regarding government spending, and the town's more-conservative fiscal positions were not being respected by a majority of the library board.

Supervisor Ryan Lippert, a member of the library board and the town's representative in negotiations with village, said, "I have spent four years of my life trying to get an agreement. I wanted an agreement more than anybody, but it just did not work out. It is unfortunate."

Lippert added that an agreement providing the town would pay 60 percent and the village would 40 percent of the municipal costs of the library had been worked out, but that pact was broken when the library board decided to file a lawsuit against the town seeking control of 65 acres of farmland donated by the late Haass to the town for library purposes.

Town Chairman Matt Gehrke noted that because of the funding agreement, the town was devoting 12 percent of its budget to library services, while other communities in the county were providing 6 to 8 percent of their budgets to library services.

In addition, Gehrke said the town board will attempt to lower the town's 2015 tax levy in an effort to offset the additional county library tax residents will have to pay.

Panten noted that 30 percent of town residents use other community library services. By ending the agreement, those other community libraries will receive a more equitable share of town tax revenues to help pay for the services they provide town residents.

Panten added the Library Board was paying too much money for salary increases and new programs.

Supervisor Joe Osterman said he warned the library board if it sued the town it would destroy any chance of a long-term library funding agreement between the town and village.

"I don't think we should be funding someone who is suing us and making us pay for half of their legal fees," Osterman said, noting the town is helping pay for the library lawyers, since the town contributes to the operating cost of the library

Town board members also noted that until last week there had been limited public interest in the negotiations between the town, village and library that had been going on for nearly four years.

"This issue has been brewing for years, It is sad to me that it has to come to the last day before people start showing up," noted Heinritz.

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"The Wonderbread Years" starring John McGivern: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27, Oconomowoc Arts Center, 641 E. Forest St., Oconomowoc. A comical salute to the baby boomer generation. (262) 560-2130, www.theoac.net.

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