Kewaunee County officials fed up with a state law that allows consolidated county library systems to bill neighboring counties arranged to have a flyer explaining the dilemma inserted into property tax bills this year.
The flyer states that since 2011 Brown and Manitowoc counties have billed Kewaunee County a total of $408,335 for services said to be incurred by county residents who use their branch libraries.
Kevin Naze of Algoma started a lively Facebook discussion this week by calling attention to the flyer and asking county and state lawmakers to chime in with an explanation.
“Hard to believe there are that many KC people utilizing Brown and Manitowoc County libraries to justify such an expense,” Naze said. “Perhaps many don’t realize this is costing the county more than $58,000 a year. I can think of a heck of a lot of better ways the county could spend $1,100+ a week!”
Supervisor Chuck Wagner told Naze he and other county officials have been fighting for about six or seven years against the law, which was passed when former state Rep. Garey Beis was in the Assembly.
“Brown County didn’t do it right away because they didn’t have a (library) director,” Wagner said. “But a few years ago when budgets were really tight, County Executive (Todd) Streckenbach pushed the issue. We have the same problem with Manitowoc but it amounts to a wash with them.
“I tried getting Bies to get the law changed but couldn’t get it done.”
The biggest problem is in the Denmark schools, Wagner said, where any child with a Kewaunee County address that uses the school library is charged approximately $2.85 per item.
“I’ve also worked on this here in Dyckesville. The Brown County bookmobile parks in Lipski’s parking lot right next to the county line in the summer,” he said. “I’ve put the message in the church bulletin, but I’m sure there are kids who check out stuff, and here again if they are a Kewaunee County resident we get hit with the charges.”
State Rep. Joel Kitchens chimed in to say that he, County Board Chairman Bob Weidner and former chairman Ron Heuer have spent time studying the issue.
“In order for Kewaunee County to not have to make payments, they would have to become a consolidated library system, meaning that Algoma and Kewaunee libraries would become part of a county system and their employees would then be county employees,” Kitchens said. “After exploring that possibility, it was determined that it would cost more money than the current system. We investigated changing that law, but I do not think it would be possible.”
In lieu of repeal, Kitchens said he is looking into the possibility of lowering the charge, which he said is determined by dividing the total cost of the library by the number of items checked out.
“Libraries do more than just lend books, so I don’t think that is very fair,” he said. “For now, the best thing is to continue to educate people not to check books out in Brown County if possible. Ordering the books in Algoma or Kewaunee is fine.”