Misunderstandings and lawyers reveal rift between Village of Black Earth and Library

Joe Block

The cutting of a line item from the Black Earth Public Library’s board by the village was front and center at the Dec. 4 board meeting. According to Village Administrator Shellie Benish, it was due to a misunderstanding.

Library Board President Angie Updike brought the issue before the village board during public comment. The issue goes back to a projected line item added to the village’s 2020 budget for funding post-retirement benefits for library employees. According to Updike, the library board chose to cut $8000 for post-retirement benefits from their budget, with the intention of providing the funds themselves, instead of using taxpayer money. The village then added an $8000 line item to the village budget. Instead of levying taxes for this, the library would provide their own funds.

Updike said they reached out to Benish but received no guidance on the correct accounting processes for the library to provide the funds.

At the Nov. 6 village board meeting, the village approved the 2020 budget. However, the village budget approved by the board struck $2000 from the library board budget for post-retirement benefits. This cut was not approved by the library board.

“You only have control over the bottom line,” Updike told the board, “not line items.”

The issue of post-retirement benefits for library employees has been an issue between the library board and village since spring. The library board sought to define their own policy, different from the village’s. The village and library board subsequently hired their own labor attorneys. That process has ended, however, as Black Earth Public Library Director Carolyn Schaffer said during her report “In good conscience I can’t as the library director allow us to spend any more money on attorneys.”

Updike said she contacted Village President Pat Troge about the $2000, but he did not respond. Troge said he couldn’t come before the library board when it came to budget items; it had to come before the entire village board.

“The library board tried to do right,” said Updike. She asked they be “included at the table” going forward.

The village will amend the village budget at the next monthly meeting and restore the $2000 to the library budget.

In her report, Schaffer also noted that the minutes--the official record of a meeting--for the Oct. 14 village board budget workshop contained an error in reference to the library’s budget. The minutes list an 11 percent increase in the library’s budget. According to Schaffer, the actual increase was 2.6 percent.

Resident Gary Schuetz spoke after Updike. He noted that the village board meeting was not listed on the website’s calendar. Over the past few months the board has met on different days rather than those regularly scheduled. At the last meeting Troge had mentioned the village should reexamine their regular meeting dates, as they have to shift throughout the year due to community events.

The board accepted a $108,841 grant from Dane County for the Community Park reconstruction. Prior to the vote to accept, trustee James Coyle asked, “Without seeing the attached flood repair agreement are we just going to [vote] on the blind and not know what the agreement is?” Benish confirmed the trustees had not received all the documents and Troge instructed her to e-mail them to Coyle. In the ensuing vote, Coyle voted against accepting the grant, which was followed by muffled laughter from a fellow trustee.

Community Park construction updates included raising a fence by an additional two feet to ensure fly balls won’t travel out of the Home Talent League diamond. Gates for the path were considered, but rejected when the prices were too high.

The village will be applying for a grant to create a path from the village to Wisconsin Heights High School. It will be a matching grant--where the village will have to pay part of the total--but the match percentage is unknown at this point.

Public Works Director Brian Schultz brought up the issue of debris in Black Earth Creek. Rocks and stones have washed into the creek bed from the flood in 2018. When asked what the DNR says the village can do about it, Schultz said “One guy will tell you that you can, the next guy will tell you you can’t.” He is seeking more guidance from the DNR, and the village will be reaching out to Trout Unlimited to see if they would contribute to cleanup.

The next meeting will be held at the regular time, Tuesday, Jan. 7, at 6:30 p.m. 

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