Arbitration reveals tax levies remain a top concern for municipalities
By Star Journal Staff
Representatives of the Rhinelander Library District have agreed to the library district’s tax levy amount for the 2018 budget with an increase of about one-tenth of what was originally requested from the library board.
“We present a budget that meets the needs of the institution, the operational expenses,” library board member Jan Baer said. “Every year, that’s what we do. That’s what we’re obligated to do.”
Instead of supporting a 6.26 percent increase, about $46,000 more than for 2017, the representatives who make up the library district from the city of Rhinelander and the towns of Crescent, Pelican, Newbold and Pine Lake agreed at Tuesday’s arbitration meeting, which could be described as strained, to an increase of only .654 percent, or $4,801.
“The municipalities have failed the community,” Rhinelander District Library director Virginia Roberts said afterward.
Roberts had told the municipal representatives at Tuesday’s meeting that the library budgeting begins in September, prior to receiving final numbers and costs. She said any new numbers, such as health insurance premiums, which will likely cost less than budgeted, are not included.
Some of the line items in the library budget included building maintenance, an additional part-time staff person, retirement funding and Wisconsin Valley Library Service reimbursement.
With arbitration being requested for setting the library district’s levy, representatives on the arbitration committee expressed concerns about the levy limits they face when setting their municipalities’ budgets.
“I would like to point out,” Pine Lake clerk Cindy Skinner began, “the allocation you have for us this year is (an increase of) $9,163. Our increase in levy limit is only $4,022, so it’s well over twice as much as we’re receiving and our levy increase decreased from last year.”
Crescent town clerk Tracy Hartman voiced a similar concern. Newbold town chairman Dave Kroll, who also chaired the arbitration committee, asked for a motion regarding the library budget.
“What we’re going to run into is, if there is no motion to change, then the budget that has been offered is going to stand,” Kroll said, after getting no response.
One thing the town representatives agreed on was that “this is difficult for everyone,” as Pine Lake town chairman Nick Scholtes stated.
“I have to handle my budget at work and I’m held to a zero percent increase, and I ask all the time, ‘Where do you want me to cut,’” said Scholtes, currently the highway commissioner in Vilas County. “Unfortunately, we don’t get a lot of choices, we’re told this is what we get and that’s it.
“Basically in the end, all we’re doing is reducing services, and it’s not just the library, it’s every business out there right now.”
The library, Roberts said, is in business to provide service.
“We’re actually one of the places where government provides a service that people use and use well and when we have our services cut, it becomes something that continues to be cut because people realize that we’re not available when they need us to be available.”
After voting on and passing a motion made by Rhinelander Finance Committee chairman Mark Pelletier to increase the levy by .654 percent, library supporters voiced their displeasure with the result.
“There are people in this county who do not have access to Internet, who do not have the access to the things they need,” said Mary Schoeneck. “Their access is here. If we take away this free information, this type of thing from our people, we are going to end up with an ignorant society that I don’t think we want to have.”
Crescent town chairman Bill Treder responded that the town has similar problems, and that Crescent had to buy fire equipment recently.
“We had to make a $70,000 purchase that we didn’t have in the budget, so we’re scrambling for that,” Treder said. “So, you know, it happens.”
“I understand that,” library employee Mona Tifft said. “Most people take pride in their libraries –we’ve been here well over 100 years and we do attract a lot of tourists, and we do attract a lot of business… rather than a golf course, we attract a lot more to the community.”
For 2017, the library district tax levy amount of $734,141 accounted for more than 79 percent of the library’s total budget of $928,411. Prior to the district tax levy for the 2018 budget being reduced from $780,118 to $738,942, the total proposed budget for next year was $984,742.