City, county discussing future of city libraries

La Crosse mayor would like to see city libraries merge with county system

La Crosse’s mayor says now is the time for some major changes in the public library system.

Right now, La Crosse public libraries are run under a different system than La Crosse County libraries. Mayor Tim Kabat is suggesting merging the city and county systems.

Kabat says keeping the city of La Crosse libraries separate from the county system doesn’t stack up.

“I think for far too long there’s been this duplication of having a city and county system,” Kabat said. “The ways that it’s funded, who uses the libraries, is very complicated and it doesn’t need to be that way.”

He said merging the two and running La Crosse libraries in the way other communities in the county run theirs would benefit city taxpayers.

“You’d have the cost of libraries spread out thought the entire county instead of locked into one community over another,” Kabat said.

“What county taxpayers who don’t live in La Crosse pay for library services is significantly less than what city of La Crosse residents pay for their library services,” La Crosse County board chair Tara Johnson said. “There’s also a difference in level of services.”

While Johnson thinks it’s worth looking into the idea of merging systems, she’s not on the same page as Kabat as far as the timeline goes.

As an alternative, Johnson is asking for a joint library commission to dig deeper into a broader range of issues.

“The proposal I have drafted is to ask them to spend 9 to 12 months in a process of community discussion,” she said. “I think in order to do their work correctly they need to look at lots of different options.”

Johnson said the city and county may ultimately end up on the same page.

“I hope there’s a very open conversation that involves more people than just the staff of city and county coming up with an idea,” she said. “I think libraries deserve more of a community conversation about the future direction for library services in our community.”

Johnson said both library boards and the city common council and county board would have to approve any proposal to merge the systems.