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July 2014

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Haass Library agreement dead?

Town of Lisbon — There is "almost no chance" that the Lisbon Town Board will approve a new long-term funding agreement with the Village of Sussex to help pay for the operations of the Pauline Haass Library.

Town officials have until Oct. 1 to notify village officials if the town no longer wants to continue the existing intermunicipal agreement that has used tax money from both communities to fund library operations since 1988.

Town Chairman Matt Gehrke scheduled a special closed session of the Town Board for Monday, Jan. 6. The meeting occurred after this paper went to press.

The Town Board will consult with Town Attorney Kathyrn Guntenkunst during the meeting about both the intermunicipal agreement with Sussex as a well as the recent decision by Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge James R. Kieffer, according to Gehrke.

Kieffer ruled Dec. 30 that the Pauline Haass Library Board has the authority to sue the Town Board over "control and custody" of about 65 acres of farmland that Pauline Haass bequeathed to the town in 1985.

Guntenkunst unsuccessfully argued in Kieffer's court that the library did not have the authority to sue one of the municipalities that create it. Kieffer's decision means the legal squabble between the town and Library Board will continue.

"The judges ruling was only on whether the Library Board had the authority to file a lawsuit. He did not rule on the merits of the case, which we will continue to argue," Gehrke said.

Gehrke indicated that court-ordered mediation in an effort to resolve the dispute between the Library Board and Town Board would likely be unsuccessful.

"It is pointless for us to negotiate with (Library Director) Kathy Klager and the Library Board," he said.

Gehrke quickly added the town would be willing to negotiate with the Village of Sussex over the Haass land and other library assets.

However, he said there is "almost no chance" that the town would enter a new library funding agreement with the village. Gehrke added that the lawsuit filed by the library against the town probably ended any hopes for an agreement with the village.

During nearly three years of negotiations, Gehrke has insisted that the town's share of library funding be reduced because, based on circulation figures, town residents use the library less than village residents.

Some town supervisors have claimed the two sides were close to an agreement before the Library Board decided to ask the Circuit Court to order the town to turn over the Haass property to the Library Board.

"There probably would have been an agreement signed by now if the Library Board hadn't file that lawsuit," added Supervisor Joe Osterman in a separate interview with Lake Country Publications.

Osterman said town supervisors intend to seek Guntenkunst's advice on how to proceed in the legal dispute, but he predicted the board would not spend money on an appeal of Kieffer's decision particularly since it is likely there would be no future agreement with Sussex.

"We are paying time and a half for everything now," Osterman said, noting that town taxpayers are paying for the town's legal fees as well as a portion of the library's legal fees since town tax dollars partly fund library operations.

Supervisor Hannah Heinritz, who expressed opposition to the library agreement in her 2013 election campaign, said she hoped the closed session would include a discussion of the future of the intermunicipal agreement as well as the library lawsuit.

"I hope we are going to discuss the broader picture," she said.

Supervisor Ryan Lippert, one of the town's three representatives on the Library Board, concurred with his fellow supervisor's assessment that it is unlikely a new agreement will be reached.

If the agreement is not renewed, town taxpayers are likely to have to pay between 24 and 26 cents per $100,000 of assessed valuation for a Waukesha County library tax that helps fund area libraries that would serve town residents, including the Sussex-based Haass library, according to town and library officials.

Town Administrator Jeff Musche previously estimated that most town residents would pay about $60 for the tax. Musche has also estimated that the same taxpayer pays about $100 under the existing agreement, which funds the library's approximately one million dollar budget.

Expiration of the agreement may also set the stage for a fight between the town and village over the value of the library's assets, including the building, land, equipment and inventory. Town officials will contend they are entitled to be reimbursed the equivalent of half of the value of those assets. Village officials will disagree.

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