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FAQ About County Library Funding

An issue of considerable concern to the Legislative Council Special Committee on Public Libraries (1997) was the lack of adequate funding in many Wisconsin counties for library service provided to residents of the county that do not maintain a public library. In response to this problem, the committee authored changes in Wisconsin library law that, for the first time, established a minimum standard for county library funding.

Counties are required to pay each public library in their county and in adjacent counties at least 70% of the cost of library services provided to residents of the county who do not maintain a public library.   Cost calculations are based on total library operating expenditures (not including capital expenditures and expenditures of federal funds) and the library's total circulation. This makes it essential that all Wisconsin libraries collect detailed nonresident usage statistics.

For more details on payments to public libraries in adjacent counties, see the FAQ About County Library Funding to Adjacent Counties.  Text of the Wisconsin Statutes s. 43.12 county library funding law.


Frequently asked questions about the county library funding law

(These answers are informal interpretations of the statutory provisions—libraries may wish to seek an attorney's opinion when applying the law to particular circumstances.)

What information must be submitted to our county so that our library receives the required reimbursement?

To receive reimbursement in the following year — a library must provide the following information to its county clerk by July 1st of the current year:

  1. the number of loans of material by the library during the prior calendar year to residents of your county who are not residents of a library municipality
  2. the total number of all loans of material during the prior calendar year
  3. total library operating expenditures (not including capital expenditures or expenditures of federal funds) for the prior calendar year

What kinds of data collection methods are required to guarantee county reimbursement at the statutory level?

The DLT recommends that regional public library systems work with their member libraries on the collection of detailed nonresident usage statistics. Attention should be given to:

  • procedures for accurately determining the place of residence of each user, most particularly to identify county residents who are not residents of a municipality that maintains a public library
  • procedures for counting annual library usage, including annual usage by county residents who are not residents of a municipality that maintains a public library
  • the definition of circulation of library material

It is essential that data be collected in a manner which can withstand scrutiny by the county. If your library has rigorous procedures for confirming the place of residence of each user and keeps an actual count of annual usage broken down by place of residence, your county will probably have no problems accepting your data.

By statute, a county clerk may have access, upon request, to all books and records used to determine both the annual library material loans to county residents who do not maintain a public library and the total annual library material loans. The identity of individuals using the library, however, is protected under Wisconsin Statutes s. 43.30.

Can our county fund our library at more than the 70% minimum?

Yes. The statutes require funding of at least 70% of operating costs. Counties are free to fund at a higher level. Counties are also free to include capital costs in their funding formulas.

Our county funds a centralized processing service provided by a county library service. Does this funding count toward the 70% level of required county funding?

An individual library board may elect to have county funding for "shared services" such as a centralized processing service, credited toward the 70% level rather than receive the funding directly.

Counties are specifically allowed to exceed the 70% level for the purpose of funding direct services, shared services, library reimbursements, or any other library funding.

How is the county payment made? Is the county payment check made out to the library or to the municipality? Can the library deposit the check in its own bank account?

By Wis. Stat. s. 43.12 (2) and (3), the county payment must be made to the library either directly or to the library system which then pays the library (see below). The check must then be deposited with the municipality in a fund under library board control. Wisconsin libraries are not allowed to maintain custody of government-appropriated funds.

Our county pays all library funding to our library system for distribution to individual libraries. Is this acceptable?

Yes, but the systems must adhere to the 70% minimum payment to county libraries requirement. An additional requirement is that a system can only handle these payments if provided for in an agreement between the county and the library system or between the county and the municipality receiving the payment.

Can a county avoid the county funding requirements by withdrawing its membership from the library system?

No.  Wisconsin Statutes s. 43.12 county funding requirements apply to all Wisconsin counties.

Since the county library funding requirements are not system membership requirements, how can the required county funding be enforced?

County boards respond to constituent needs.  In the unlikely event of non-compliance, legal action to enforce the law could be brought by a municipality providing service to county residents and perhaps a harmed taxpayer.

Does the statutory county tax levy rate freeze prevent an increase in county library funding?

No. As long as at least one municipality in the county is exempt from the county library levy, the amount that a county levies in that year to make payments to public libraries is excluded from levy rate freeze calculations.  See Wisconsin Statutes s. 66.0602(3)(e)(4).  Nearly all Wisconsin counties have at least one municipality that is exempt from the county library levy or have municipalities that could exempt themselves.

When county funding of our library reaches the statutorily required level, does the county have the right to appoint a representative to our library board?

Perhaps. Wisconsin Statutes s. 43.60 provides that whenever a county appropriates funds for a municipal library equaling at least one-sixth of the amount appropriated by the municipality, the county may appoint a library board member to serve in addition to those appointed by the municipality.

What is the statutory standard for exemption from the county library property tax levy?

First, find out the county tax rate for library service in the current year (which is based on the county library appropriation approved the prior fall and equalized property valuations set by the State Department of Revenue the prior year). Then, apply this rate to the library municipality's equalized property valuations set by the Department of Revenue the current year. If the municipality's library appropriation for the upcoming year is greater than the result of this calculation, the library's municipality may apply to the county for exemption from the county library tax. However, any library not meeting minimum standards adopted as part of the county library plan may be denied an exemption.

I have other questions. Who do I contact?

Contact your library system for specific questions about your library's situation. More general questions can be directed to Shannon Schultz, Public Library Administration Consultant, DPI, (608) 266-7270.