Library funding from St. Croix County was at the center of debate Monday night, Sept. 18 as the Hudson Common Council approved a resolution admonishing the county board's decision to underfund the Hudson Joint Area Library.
In its September meeting, the county board voted 15-3 to fund the Hudson Joint Area library at only 70 percent of the cost incurred by serving residents outside its communities.
Mayor Rich O'Connor, who serves as president of the library board, said the history of the issue goes back to 2002 when the Hudson Joint Area Library was formed to represent Hudson, town of Hudson, village of North Hudson and town of St. Joseph. At that time the joint library agreed to reimburse neighboring libraries outside of its four communities for serving its residents. This includes libraries in Somerset, River Falls, Roberts and New Richmond.
In 2012, it was discovered that Hudson was not meeting the requirement for the county tax exemption and had been reporting inaccurate numbers. O'Connor said both the city and the county were culpable as both signed off on it.
The library was operating at half the funding required for the exemption by that point.
"We were put into a bind that no other library was put into," O'Connor said.
In order to handle its financial concerns, the joint library board decided to stop payments to the outside libraries. City Attorney Catherine Munkittrick said the agreement made back in 2002 allowed for amendments by the involved municipalities.
"We did what we thought was right," O'Connor said.
As a result, the county has decided to fund the Hudson Area Joint Library at a lower percent, and redistribute that money to the communities that are no longer supported by it.
County Supervisor Roy Sjoberg told the council the county is trying to be fair to the affected libraries.
"It's the equitable thing to do," Sjoberg said.
He said the joint library could be undone, and then there wouldn't be any funding issues. Sjoberg also said it was important for the council to understand the county's position. He told the council he found the proposed resolution troubling and felt it was politically motivated.
In turn O'Connor said the county's actions could be a politically-motivated attempt to force the joint library into a financial situation that would require it to disband.
"They're punishing us," he said.
County Supervisor Bob Long told the council he voted against the underfunding. He said doing so penalizes the library for doing something that it had every right to do.
"The library board made a decision, a financial decision, to maintain its financial stability," he said.
Council Member Jim Webber said he was concerned about the resolution. He said though the city's actions may have been legal, they weren't ethical.
"It's not living up to the commitment that was made many years ago," Webber said.
He said the resolution likely wouldn't have any effect on the county.
Council Member Joyce Hall said though she supports the joint library, she was torn on the resolution.
"I don't think escalating this fight is really in anybody's best interest," she said.
O'Connor said the resolution may not persuade anyone, but the point is to support what's going on with their library.
"As a fiduciary sitting on the library board I don't have any apologies for voting to not send that money over to other library systems," O'Connor said.
The resolution passed 4-1, with Webber voting no and Council Member John Hoggatt absent.