County studies library restructuring

Change could halt outside billing

Faced with more bills from neighboring library systems, Shawano County is taking steps to consider changes aimed at avoiding such costs in the future.

For the second straight year, libraries in nearby Pulaski, Marion and elsewhere have billed Shawano County more than $100,000 because of residents crossing borders to use libraries outside the county.

County officials have responded by launching a special committee to identify solutions to the financial issue, including reorganizing the current partnerships that operate libraries throughout Shawano County.

The county library planning committee held its first meeting Thursday and heard from a state library official who encouraged Shawano County to create a single countywide library system to defuse the cross-border borrowing issue.

John DeBacher, public library development director for the state, said such a consolidated organization would disallow neighboring libraries from seeking reimbursement from Shawano County under state law. The same issue has surfaced in other parts of the state, DeBacher said, but state legislators so far have not identified any statewide solutions.

“It continues to be kind of a hot issue,” DeBacher said.

Members of the special committee agreed to call together library branch representatives next month to gauge support for a consolidated county library system.

Kathy Luebke, county supervisor and chairwoman of the committee, said the county’s costs would increase by assuming responsibility for all libraries, but the county would be investing in local services rather than sending money to libraries in other counties.

“We have to decide: Do we want to keep the money in-house?” Luebke said.

The current Shawano City-County Library system operates the main library in downtown Shawano, with branches in Bonduel, Birnamwood, Mattoon, Tigerton and Wittenberg. The system operates on a yearly budget of about $600,000, which is funded 80 percent by the county and 20 percent by the city of Shawano.

Despite the local facilities, some residents venture outside Shawano County and and use libraries elsewhere, including in Pulaski, Marion and Clintonville. The state’s complex rules for libraries allow some libraries to seek payment from neighboring counties when such cross-border borrowing occurs.

Shawano County has been billed the past two years by libraries in Waupaca County, Brown County and Langlade County. The bills amounted to $141,000 last year and decreased only slightly this year to $123,000.

With no relief in sight from state library funding reforms, the Shawano County Board created the special committee to consider options at the local level.

Administrative Coordinator Brent Miller told committee members that the current arrangement is costing the county more than $100,000 a year and that current state law gives the county few options for either avoiding those costs or recouping the losses.

“We’re getting hammered,” Miller said.

DeBacher said the county could implement a countywide consolidated library system by assuming responsibility for the city of Shawano’s 20-percent share of the operating costs, and by increasing county property taxes, if necessary, to pay the increased costs.

Committee members agreed that such a restructuring was worth considering, although some expressed concern that branch library boosters in Birnamwood, Tigerton or elsewhere would resist the change.

Branch representatives will be invited to the committee’s next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 4.

Kristie Hauer, director of the city-county library, said she supports the reorganization idea as a way of not only halting the crossover borrowing bills, but also of creating more uniformity among Shawano County libraries in staff training, services provided and standards of operation.

“I think we’d have more consistent services,” Hauer said.

Miller agreed, saying he hopes the branch libraries would embrace the countywide structure as a way of improving services through increased sharing of resources and economies of scale.

“It opens the door for other things,” Miller said. “It gives them more opportunities.”