Lisbon to vote to end Haass library agreement
Lisbon — The town board is expected to formally take action next week to terminate at the end of this year the long-standing agreement with the Village of Sussex over sharing most of the operating costs of the Pauline Haass Libary.
Town Chairman Matt Gehrke said a decision to place the issue on the June 23 meeting agenda was made during a closed session of the Town Board on May 27 when the board discussed legal strategy with town lawyer Katheryn Gutenkunst.
The board could have voted to terminate the contract following the closed session, but Supervisor Steve Panten persuaded his colleagues to wait until the June 23 meeting so town residents would have an opportunity to voice their opinion on whether the agreement should be terminated, according to several sources.
"I think all of the board pretty much agreed with Steve. We want to make this as open and transparent as possible. We had pretty much left it up to Kathy to decide when we should notify the village. She thinks now is as good a time as any," Gehrke said.
"It is a cost saving measure. We are trying to reduce lawyer fees for both communities," Gutenkunst told Lake Country Publications.
She explained that negotiations between the town and the village over how to divide the library's assets could begin immediately now that the town has notified the village of the town's intent to terminate the agreement at the end of this year.
She said those negotiations might avoid a law suit between the communities over dividing the library's assets and also will eliminate the need for the town and Library Board to continue their legal battle over control of 65 acres farm land and other assets that the widow Pauline Haass donated to the town for library purposes.
Dispute on what happens
There is a dispute between town and village officials over what happens when the contract is terminated. The town contends that the library can longer exist as a jointly owned municipal library and, according to the agreement, its assets must be divided between the communities.
Village officials have said they are prepared to assume control of the library and operate it at its existing level of service, and since the town will no longer help fund library operations, the town is not entitled to the library's assets.
"This is no shocker. They have said all along they were going to pull out. We understand the town's position (about dividing library assets). The village has a different one. We will just have to see how things work out," said Village Administrator Jeremy Smith.
For the past four years the town and village have been at an impasse over a new funding agreement, with Gehrke insisting the village should pay a bigger share of the operating costs since village residents use the library more than town residents.
In 2013, the town contributed approximate $420,000 and the village contributed about $460,000 to the library budget of about $1.2 million.
Town residents will be required to pay an additional real estate tax to Waukesha County in 2015 and beyond — estimated to be about 26 cents per $100,000 assessed valuation — as a result of the termination of the agreement.
Subject to a tax
The tax revenues are used by the county to reimburse those communities that have libraries that provide services to communities that do not have libraries. Sussex, if it continues to operate the library, will receive most of the revenues from the Lisbon tax payments.
The town and village residents were exempt from the tax because of the joint municipal agreement that funded the library.
However, town taxpayers were paying more per capita to help fund the library agreement than they would pay in the county tax, according to town officials.
Town officials also are exploring the possibility of joining the Pewaukee Library and sharing in the cost of that system.
During 2011 and 2012, there was some disagreement among town board members over how, or whether, to extend the library funding agreement with the village.
In April of 2013, two candidates for the town board — Hannah Heinritz and Panten — were elected following campaigns that challenged the idea of a new library agreement. As a result of the election, Supervisor Joe Osterman became a key vote for a new agreement on the board.
But, the Library Board infuriated Osterman when they filed the law suit against the town.
Since then, the board has solidly backed Gehrke's position that the town would terminate the agreement unless the Library Board drops the law suit and the village pays a bigger share of the library operating costs.
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