Thomson Outlines Possible Library Plan
February 10, 2022
So, if offered, should the Village/Library Board buy The Zwingli House property from Swiss Church as a site for the new New Glarus Library? This site is great i.e., plenty of available space - over 20,000 sq feet; parking; sewer and water (lower cost compared to other sites looked at over the last 20 years); the Village Park and swimming pool; on the school bus route; close to the downtown. Police, Fire and EMS are close by. No library site around here has these advantages.
Zwingli House is obsolete. (Ask Swiss Church members about the engineering study they have done.) Generally bad, but in one context “obsolete” is a plus. It makes our library project eligible for USDA funding with a long-term loan up to as much as 40 years. With a 40-year USDA payback period, the Village can borrow $1,600,000 at about the same annual cost as borrowing $1,000,000 with municipal debt. Nor does USDA debt “count” towards the Village lending limit. I’m guessing there is extra work to administer the loan—it’s a governmental loan after all—but it’s a real chance to build a decent size library.
The offer to purchase should address necessary contingencies so that both Village/Library and Church are comfortable with the deal before closing—while the parties have equality.
The plan we’ve been working with is roughly 50% public (Village borrowing) and 50% private (funds the library has raised). That plan was put in place years ago and, to say the least, times have changed. With the old plan, the Library can build in the 5,000 sq foot range with today’s construction costs. A little more than twice the size of our present library. A USDA loan and a few more dollars annually the Village could borrow $2 million dollars, build with a different public/private ratio (closer to 67%/33%) which will allow us a fund a good library. Not perfect, but good.
Operations: Way more complicated than building anything is operating same. Folks to come to a library for program, not a building. “The Golden Age of Public Libraries Dawns Once Again” (1-1-2022), an article with interesting program ideas to consider for our new library.
In the past, the Village Board has laid down a considerable restraint on the new Library: barely any new operating money. I think it fair to say that asking the Library Board to support new program in the new library with volunteers is challenging. Recruiting and managing volunteers is a job unto itself. We know the hiring process: job description, security check, interviews and then performance evaluations. Compare that to completing the same task with volunteers. Ugh. Volunteers don’t run other village functions, so why the library? Well, money. So...
How to fund important new library programs? Well, you and me, we all own a very profitable business in New Glarus: the New Glarus Public (electric and water) Utility. It’s a business asset. Wis statutes 66.0811 provides that municipal utilities are entitled to the same rate of return as permitted for privately owned utilities. Historically municipal utilities have earned less (about 6%) than a private utility (11%) but earnings potential in New Glarus is still significant. The utility budget for New Glarus Utilities provides for a minor profit in 2022. And maybe another year after that. This is largely due to the creation of the new substation and repairs to our water system and soon thereafter hooking up to the new school. None of this changes the capacity of New Glarus Utilities to produce net income.
Most importantly, the last line of 66.0811 (3) says: surplus funds (earnings) may be placed into the general fund of the Village of New Glarus. So, our municipal utility can declare a dividend to the Village and the Village can use that money to pay for better library operating expenses. Not perfect, but good.
So right now there is a “line” of work to be done at the Village and the library isn’t in that line. That’s our job: get ready and get in line. Make library plans work with Village priorities. This an exciting location; we might have funding not previously available; this is a unique opportunity for new programs to benefit our kids and the rest of us.
New library: do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.