By Shereen Siewert | Wausau Pilot & Review

Hours before the Marathon County Board will vote on next year’s budget, a petition with more than 1,000 signatures was sent to Supervisors urging support for the public library’s funding request.

The petition, launched last week on a platform that supports First Amendment causes, asks the group to reject Supervisor David Baker’s budgeting amendment on multiple grounds. The Marathon County Public Library Alliance alleges Baker’s amendment is misnamed – because it is not a measure that would fully fund the library.

The group also says Supervisor Baker has not used accurate numbers in his proposal, which, by his own admission, are estimates. Using financial figures from a year that it not yet complete is problematic, the group says, as many large annual bills are due in the last two months of the year. Baker’s numbers do not account for those funds.

In a personal blog post, Baker responded to a constituent’s concerns about the estimates by saying that it was “unfortunate that I had to make estimates without complete data, but it was not due to a lack of effort on my part.”

Though Baker has not responded to past invitations to comment on the issue from Wausau Pilot & Review, in his blog he laments “the level of confusion and misinformation surrounding the 2024 Library budget and proposal” being circulated.

In an email sent to library officials, County Administrator Lance Leonhard and other recipients, Baker, of Dist. 23, said he’s considering forming an “unofficial Library Community Standards Alignment” work group to help resolve differences between the library board and some residents “concerned with the direction of the Marathon County Library.” One of the options to consider, Baker said, is abolishing the County Library system altogether and transfer control to each municipality to “follow their respective community standards.”

Wausau Pilot & Review in October reported on Baker’s wishes, which also included pulling nearly $3 million from the library’s budget to replace its HVAC system.

In his personal blog, Baker says his proposal increases the library tax levy, while saving taxpayers $165,000 in property taxes and “fully funds” the library’s 2024 budget using a combination of revenue and fund reserves. Critics have called his numbers “ridiculous” and “inaccurate.”

Baker has characterized his intent as preventing the library’s reserve fund from growing too large. But Alliance members say there is already a mechanism in place to solve that problem – with a cap on the library’s capital improvement fund, which sits at $300,000. By statute, any unused dollars form the library’s general fund automatically move to the capital improvement fund. County Administrator Lance Leonhard, during a Nov. 8 meeting, said that the following year’s budget allocation will be decreased to keep the fund at $300,00.

“The Baker amendment is a solution in search of a problem,” the group stated. “There is no problem.”

The Library Alliance is asking Baker not to submit his amendment at the Marathon County Board meeting Nov. 9, during which budget numbers will be finalized for 2024.

“Your friends and neighbors are telling you by their signatures on this petition, that they value library services in Marathon County and want the library budget to be approved as submitted,” a letter from the group states. “If you vote for the Baker amendment, be prepared to have difficulty defending a decision that your constituents so clearly disagree with. Please do the right thing and do not make a motion, second a motion or vote for this misguided budget amendment tonight.”