Residents had sharp words this week for the Marathon County Board of Supervisors, while urging them to approve or even increase library funding amid an ongoing debate over book placement and rating systems.
Marathon County Public Library Trustee Board President Kari Sweeney was among the 22 people who spoke Thursday during a public hearing on the county’s budget proposal. Sweeney and 17 other speakers urged supervisors to approve the library’s allocated portion of the budget. Some called for supervisors to restore funding cuts from previous years and said they would not object to increased taxes to ensure the library is funded appropriately.
Sweeney clarified that the library is not requesting a 12 percent increase in funding, but is submitting a nearly identical request compared to last year.
“The disparity comes from the previous years’ cuts that would not have been sustainable without back-filling from our reserve funds,” Sweeney said.
The bulk of the library’s funding, which is raised through a special purpose levy, has mostly been cut over the past five years, according to budget documents. This year’s proposed levy is roughly $3.6 million.
Sweeney said funding the library as proposed would be the most yielding investment that the county board can make. Branches throughout the county provide critical and indispensable services, like free internet and wi-fi hotspots, as well as passport services to the community, including to those in rural areas and those from disadvantaged socioeconomic segments. She urged the board to not make any further cuts.
Many residents who spoke criticized the supervisors who want to reduce library funding due to their concerns over content. So far, all attempts to remove or reposition books in the library have failed, as have attempts to introduce a rating system. Supervisors have been cautioned by the county board chair and corporation counsel that penalizing the library in such a manner could expose Marathon County to legal risk.
One report commissioned by the county concluded that supervisors violated First Amendment protections in their zeal to ban or remove books. Critics of such requests say parents should take responsibility for their own children and not impose their choice on others.
Some speakers this week accused supervisors of distributing propaganda about library materials and trying to take the county back to the “dark ages,” while one resident spoke out strongly against Supervisor David Baker’s recent suggestion to abolish the current library system altogether.
Four other speakers asked the board to support amendments introduced by two supervisors that they said aims to reduce the tax levy. Those amendments relate to diverting money from the Social Improvement Fund for debt services, while selling vacant county properties and applying any resulting profit toward retiring the debt service.
County committee proposes budget of $201.9M, property tax levy at $57.95M
Marathon County’s Human Resources, Finance and Property Committee has proposed the 2024 Budget at $201,945,372. The committee has proposed a property tax levy of $57,954,347. The proposed tax rate is $3.99 per $1,000 of equalized value of property.
While this is a lower tax rate compared to 2023, the overall tax levy will increase by $3,111,687, which is approximately 5.7%. This is because, county officials said, the property value in Marathon County has increased approximately by 11% over 2023.
The committee coordinates the budget proposal by first accepting it formally from the county administrator – who prepares it with help from administration officials – and by adding amendments proposed by supervisors.
Amendments can be proposed through Monday, while the committee will consider them two days later. The board is set to vote and finalize the budget on Nov. 9.