Joint library system just makes good sense
Posted: Wed Apr 10, 2002 11:20 am
We think it’s time that the State of Wisconsin took a closer look at the statutes regarding libraries in the state.<p>For years, northern Lincoln County townships have been trying to find a way to establish a joint library with the City of Tomahawk to fund the Tomahawk Public Library. The current system, whereby all townships in the county pay taxes to both the Tomahawk and Merrill libraries, we would argue is unfair. Of course, the northern townships, whose residents see two-thirds of their library tax dollars go to support Merrill’s T.B. Scott Library, aren’t happy with the arrangement.<p>The townships in the Merrill area, however, are getting a pretty good deal, with the extra money flowing from the north to subsidize T.B. Scott. <p>Obviously there is some money coming from southern townships to the Tomahawk Public Library. But the balance favors the southern township as about $75,000 more flows from north to south. Because T.B. Scott’s budget is twice that of the Tomahawk library, it receives twice as much township library tax.<p>Under present laws, the townships have to petition the Lincoln County Board for any changes to the library funding system. We’ve seen time and again what happens when the issue comes to the board, the membership of which is weighted in favor of the Merrill area. Last month, the board voted to deny a joint library request from the Tomahawk area townships. The vote, not surprisingly, was divided geographically with Tomahawk area supervisors voting in favor and Merrill area supervisors voting in opposition.<p>The state isn’t offering much relief, either. The county’s Library Planning Committee came up with a detailed plan for joint libraries that would have had northern towns paying only for the Tomahawk library and southern towns paying solely for T.B. Scott. Attorney General James Doyle, however, reviewed the plan and gave his opinion that it would not pass constitutional muster.<p>Well, then maybe it’s time to rethink the state laws that govern library funding. This isn’t a debate unique to Lincoln County, after all.<p>The northern townships who brought the request to the county board do have the option of appealing the decision to the state Department of Public Instruction. We won’t hold our breath for a favorable decision from that department, however.<p>It’s frustrating to be saddled with the current funding system when a joint library system just seems to make so much more sense. Let those most likely to use each library pay for their library’s budget. The joint library system would stop the flow of money from north to south, and from south to north for that matter. Lincoln County taxpayers would know that their full share of library taxes is going to their own community’s library.<p>Unfortunately, the library issue is one of the strongest arguments perpetuating the north-south division in Lincoln County. While we don’t care for that divisiveness, we do feel that on the issue of libraries, it just makes sense to separate the communities.