BAYFIELD – The Bayfield Town Board voted unanimously Tuesday to support the Pine River Library’s mill levy increase on the November ballot.
Declining oil and gas property tax revenues have taken a toll on the library district’s property tax-based budget. In 2018, the district requested a mill levy increase, but the effort lost by nine votes. The 2019 measure will once again test the community’s support for the library.
“You took a year; you did some cuts; you tried to figure things out,” Mayor Matt Salka told library director Shelley Walchak after her presentation at the board meeting. “You’re now coming back for less.”
A Yes vote on ballot issue 6A would increase property taxes in the library district from 2.5 mills to 4 mills, or by about $337,000 in 2020. A No vote means that the mill levy will remain at 2.5 mills.
The library’s revenue has decreased by 45% since 2010 to its current amount of almost $562,000 per year, according to the library’s ballot issue fact sheet. The mill levy increase would raise the district’s total property tax revenue to almost $900,000.
The funds would help maintain or improve library services, including operating days and hours, book and digital collections, technology upgrades and building maintenance, youth learning activities and services, adult education and senior services.
The owner of a $325,000 home currently pays about $58 per year to the library district. If the ballot measure passes, that amount would increase to about $93 per year.
Proponents of the ballot issue say the library holds an important place in the community as an educational resource and a community center. They say the library has already made cuts to its budget, and it decreased the mill levy request in response to community feedback. In 2018, the ballot issue proposed raising the mill levy from 2.5 mills to 4.5 mills, or by $454,185 in the 2019 fiscal year.
Opponents argue that tax increases are difficult for people on fixed incomes, and the library offers extra programs that could be cut. They say parents should pay for the educational child care programs offered at the library, not taxpayers, and the district should tighten its budget.
Most of the Bayfield trustees quickly expressed support for 6A, although Trustee Matt Nyberg reluctantly voted Yes on the resolution of support. Trustee Ashleigh Tarkington, a Pine River Library board member, recused herself from the vote.
“(I’m) very appreciative that the town council chose to do that,” Walchak said in an interview. “I think they must realize the essential nature of having a high-functioning library in their community.”
In the meeting, Walchak, who recently won a career achievement award, said the library is a special district whose boundaries match the Bayfield School District boundaries. The library is a quasi-governmental organization – it accepts district taxes, but it does not receive state or federal funding.
For library staff, the November elections will decide whether some staff members will lose their jobs. Each line item in the district budget has been cut down as much as possible, and the main line item left to decrease is staffing, Walchak said.
The library has cut program materials, weekday hours and Sunday hours. Staff members apply for grants, but grants often require matching funds and do not offer a steady source of income.
Interested residents may review a budget overview at the library and ask staff members for a more detailed financial explanation.
Overall, if the mill levy does not pass, there will be a $50,000 cut in the personnel budget, Walchak said.
“And if we cut staff, then we don’t have enough man hours to run the library, to do the actual tasks involved in running the library, and also to serve the public,” she said.