The question of where to publish St. Croix County Board proceedings, the summary of each monthly meeting, was left largely unanswered last week.
In December, following a complaint about the type size one newspaper used to print a set of minutes, the Finance Committee voted to publish the proceedings in the New Richmond News and the Hudson Star-Observer, in a newsletter available to the county's senior citizens and on the county's Web site.
At last month's County Board meeting, Supervisor Julie Speer, Wilson, who represents a district on the east side of the county, challenged that decision.
Prior to the December meeting, the county paid to print the proceedings in seven newspapers. The rate, set about 20 years ago, was far below standard newspaper rates.
"Frankly if there was a way to do it, I'd like to not publish the minutes at all," said Finance Committee Chairman Daryl Standafer, North Hudson. "I think we think most people out there are a whole lot more interested in what we do than they are."
Standafer said state law requires county boards to print proceedings of their meetings, which can be shorter than the minutes the board has been publishing, in a newspaper.
According to County Clerk Cindy Campbell, the county has been paying about $9,200 a year to publish the proceedings in seven newspapers. Depending on their circulation, the newspapers received from $60 (the Woodville Leader) to $182.50 (the Hudson Star-Observer) to print a month's proceedings, which can take up half a newspaper page or more.
The county's and state's publication requirements vary among types of notices. Election notices are published in all the county's newspapers, said Campbell. Finance Director Michelle Pietrick said the budget must be printed in the two newspapers with the largest circulations.
Over 30 years ago when the board talked about limiting publication of the proceedings, the newspapers all agreed to accept a lower rate if the minutes were printed in all of them, said Hudson Star-Observer Publisher Steve Dzubay.
According to Campbell, that rate was last increased in 1988.
"What has gone on for 20 years has been good for the county," said Dzubay. Using one specific publication, he figured the county paid $184 when under state standards, the Star-Observer was entitled to charge $473.
"If you're going to throw the system up in the air, we're going to start from scratch," said Dzubay. He said the newspapers will stick with the old agreement if the proceedings are published in all seven, but will raise rates if that agreement is broken.
"I think the newspaper is one of the best ways to get information out," said Supervisor Esther Wentz, New Richmond. She said a lot of people don't have access to the Internet and many do read County Board proceedings in newspapers.
Standafer said there are two issues: the financial cost and the perception that cutting out newspapers would limit or reduce citizens' access to the County Board's actions.
"I certainly would not want to be a party to that," he said, adding that he didn't think that was what the Finance Committee was doing.
Another option, said Supervisor Buck Malick, town of Hudson, would be to publish shorter versions of board proceedings, thus reducing the newspaper space they take.
Standafer asked for price comparisons and for further discussion next month.
In the meantime, the December proceedings will be printed in the New Richmond News and the Hudson Star-Observer.