The Hokah City Council approved its 2018 property tax levy at a special meeting Tuesday and went ahead with the cutbacks in funding to the public library that prompted last week’s tabling of the levy.
The city’s $295,883 2018 tax levy will be comprised of $225,995 for its general fund, $53,987 for a wastewater treatment plant bond and $15,901 for the public library’s levy.
Council member Matt Vetsch sparked confusion and some tempers at the Dec. 5 meeting when he suggested a $5,000 reduction from the library’s levy.
Supporters of the library at the Dec. 5 meeting asked for clarification on how Vetsch came up with the plan, and questioned if it had to do with the library’s decision to remain in the basement of the old city hall, rather than move to the former school building at 211 Main St. with the other city offices.
After hearing heated public feedback regarding the motion, Hokah City Attorney Skip Wieser recommended that City Administrator Rod Blank table the item until he could properly guide the council on the legality of cutting the library’s levy.
On Tuesday night, Wieser provided his findings to the council.
“The conclusion is, that if the council wants, the council can reduce that $21,000 proposed library levy,” said Wieser, who said his office communicated with and reviewed information from the Department of Education on potential statutes. “But they cannot go lower than $15,901. So the $15,901 is basically the floor or minimum amount for their levy.”
Wieser explained that if the council were to cut the library’s levy below that mark, it would result in funding issues from the regional library system.
Hokah resident Barb Bissen, who first established the Hokah library around 30 years ago, questioned the council’s rationale for cutting the library’s levy, which she said has been set at $21,000 for many years.
Walsh directed Bissen’s inquiry to Vetsch, and said it was his idea to cut the library funding.
“My reasoning is to help pay for some of the heating in that building now, if the library is going to stay there,” said Vetsch of the old city hall.
Vetsch and Bissen then exchanged words over the library’s utilities, which Vetsch pointed out the library does not pay for out of its own budget. Bissen said the library took steps to be more energy efficient, like installing LED lights. Vetsch then asked Bissen if LED lights run for free.
Patti Ziegler, who serves on Hokah’s library board, commented how she doesn’t think the library can use $6,000 worth of utilities in a year, and if the city was actually concerned about the library’s power usage, they could have brought it up this summer when budgets were being discussed.
Bissen said the city had other options to make cutbacks that would leave the library’s budget intact.
“I think this is going to do a lot for the relationships in this city, after I thought we were on the upswing,” added Bissen.
The last efforts from library supporters to sway the council came from Ziegler, who explained how it was the council who elected the library stay in its current location, after the library board submitted written input asking to be located in the upper level of the new city administration building this summer.
“The council elected to keep us in the building we’re in,” said Ziegler. “That was a decision made by the council.”
City Clerk Eric Leitzen said had reviewed the audio from last week’s council meeting and it was actually the building committee that voted on the matter, and they voted to take no action, but reserved the right to take action at a later date.
Before the board made the final motion, Councilman Don Bissen replied to a question regarding what was going to happen with the money cut from the public library funding, and if it would go towards increasing the general fund.
“We’re going to use the money for Rod (Blank)’s building at the end of the street,” said Bissen.