Dispute over land holds up library agreement
Town of Lisbon – There may be a Sept. 17 showdown among the Town of Lisbon, the Village of Sussex and the Pauline Haass Library Board over the approximately 60 acres of farm land that the widow Haass deeded to the town for library purposes.
Library Board Chairman Robert Williams, a former town supervisor, said he may ask the three local governments to resolve the dispute between the town and library board over control of land during the annual meeting of the library board and the two municipalities that financially support it.
Williams suggested the showdown might be averted if the Library Board can come with up with a new compromise or decide to support a town proposal before the Sept. 17 meeting.
Otherwise, Williams said, he may place the existing library proposal on the agenda for the Sept. 17 meeting for an "up or down" vote by the members of the three governing boards.
Williams said any proposal would need the approval of at least both of the municipal boards.
If a proposal is defeated during the meeting, the three boards will then have to negotiate some kind of compromise, Williams said.
Town and village officials have said they will not approve a new longterm funding agreement for library operations unless the town and library board resolve their dispute over who should control the Haass land.
Town officials say the land belongs to the town because Haass willed it to the town for town library purposes. The Library Board argues that state law requires that all lands bequeathed for library purposes should be controlled by a library board.
The dispute needs to be resolved by mid-October, otherwise the Libray Board can opt to file a lawsuit in Waukesha County challenging the town's "custody and control" of the land.
Williams' comments came after an approximately 10 minute closed session of the Town Board, where the four supervisors and Town Chairman Matt Gehrke agreed to reject a compromise proposal offered by the library.
The library's proposal countered an earlier offer made by the town and rejected by the Library Board.
Both proposals contemplate the town and the village reimbursing the library for an amount of money equivalent to the value of the land. However, the plans differ sharply over how and when the money would be reimbursed to the library.
The proposals also differ in how the money could be used. The town restricts the use of the money to building a new facility. The library proposal allows the money to be used for any purpose.
According to the town plan, the land would be sold during the next 10 years, whenever a decision is made to expand the existing library facility.
After the land is sold, the proceeds of the sale would be gifted to the Library Board. The village would provide a gift in the same dollar amount to the library.
If there is no library expansion within the next 10 years, the town "would take all necessary steps" to sell the land after 2023 and forward the proceeds to the library which would be matched by the village.
However, there are no guarantees in the agreement because town residents at a special town meeting would have to approve the sale of the land, according to state law.
Library and Sussex officials are concerned that town voters might not approve the sale of the land.
In addition, some suggest, there is no date certain in the agreement when the town would attempt to sell the land if there was no expansion of the library by 2023.
The Library Board's proposal calls for land to be appraised this year. The town would pay to the board the amount of the appraised value. The village would match the town's payment.
However, there are no indications how the town would raise the money to give to the library. Some officials estimate the value of the land at between $350,000 and $500,000 or higher, depending upon the real estate market.
The agreement appears to allow the town to maintain possession of the land presumably selling it at a later date to recover the cost of the payment made to the library.
That condition in the agreement is opposed by Supervisor Joe Osterman. Osterman said if the town maintains possession of the land for later sale at a higher price, it puts the town in the real estate business.
"I don't think we would should be in the real estate business. Other local governments have tried it and got themselves in trouble," he said.
Gehrke did not provide specific reasons why the Town Board rejected the Library Board offer other than to say he believed the town's original proposal remained the best method for resolving the conflict.
Williams said the Library Board's offer "is not a hard proposal, it is a clarification" of some of the issues separating the two parties.
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