Public Library Funding In Wisconsin
There are four governance arrangements of public libraries in Wisconsin: (1) municipal public libraries, (2) joint public libraries, (3) consolidated county public libraries, and (4) tribal libraries. Municipal libraries have one municipality as their governing body, either a city, village, or town. Joint public libraries are formed when more than one municipality has a joint agreement to support a public library. This can be a combination of cities, villages, towns, or counties, in any combination, and in any number. Consolidated county libraries may have one or multiple locations, and the governing body is the county, not a municipality. All county residents are served by this type of library. Tribal libraries are just like municipal libraries, except that the governing body is the tribal council.
Most, but not all, of the public libraries in Wisconsin are funded primarily by their governing body. In other words, most of a city or village library’s funding comes from the city or village; joint libraries usually split costs, as determined in their joint library agreement contract; county or tribal libraries are mostly funded by the county or tribe. As of 2012, when Maintenance of Effort was repealed in the state biennial budget, no statutory minimum support by the governing body currently exists in statute. The amount appropriated to the library is determined during the municipal, county, or tribal budget process.
Libraries that do not have a county as their governing body are entitled to payments for use of their library by residents of their home county who live in municipalities that do not have a library. These users are commonly referred to as “rural residents,” and the usage is referred to as “rural circulation.” By statute, a library is reimbursed at a rate no lower than 70 percent of the cost of this rural circulation.
These libraries are also entitled to payments from counties adjacent to their home county (they must share a border at any point), at a minimum of 70 percent, for usage by residents of those counties. A library seeking adjacent county payments must bill the adjacent county in order to receive these payments. The amount is calculated using the same general formula as the one used for the home county. Consolidated county libraries have the option to choose whether or not to bill adjacent counties; however, if a consolidated county library bills an adjacent county, then their county is subject to billing by libraries in adjacent counties. Think of this as a doorway: if a consolidated county library opens the door and bills other counties, the door is then left open for others to bill their county.
Last, our state structure is set up so that state funding goes to public library systems, rather than to individual libraries, for coordinated library services. The only exceptions are some state and federal grants that may be offered for specific initiatives. State aid is funded in part by federal LSTA funds, as distributed by the Institute for Museum and Library Services.
Exemption from the County Library Tax
The tax levy rate is determined by dividing a county’s current year total library budget by the previous year's equalized value of those municipalities that pay the county library tax. That value is then multiplied by the current year equalized value of those municipalities with libraries to determine the municipal appropriation needed in order to be exempted from the county library tax for the next year.
Exemption from the county library tax is a municipal responsibility, but public libraries should be aware of the process, as this calculation may have an impact on the library's budget proposal process. Because the calculation relies upon equalized property values, the calculation is updated on or around August 15 of each year.
2023 County Tax Exemption Calculation
Other Financial Considerations
Sales Tax and Public Libraries
Wisconsin public libraries may be subject to sales tax. Questions about sales tax laws and regulations should be directed to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue at (608) 266-2776.