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Fitchburg’s new library, slated to open next July, will cause ripples throughout the Dane County Library Service in ways complicated and concrete.

The complicated: Fitchburg residents no longer will pay their share of the county’s library tax, which at $778,000 in 2010 is by far the largest contributor among local governments to the county libraries’ operating budget. No one is quite sure how the revenue hit will affect the 26 public libraries in the Dane County system who rely in part on the taxes, paid by property owners in cities, towns and villages without a library.

“I think it will be challenging for some libraries as we figure things out and wait for the dust to settle,” said Julie Anne Chase, director of the county library service.

The concrete: Booker, the system’s library on wheels, will travel farther and add stops in far-flung county outposts possibly including Daleyville, Morrisonville and Mount Vernon, Chase said. The expanded routes will be possible because it will no longer serve Fitchburg, where it now spends 5½ hours of its 21-hour weekly total.

“We see it as an opportunity to deliver library services to communities that are most isolated from existing libraries,” Chase said.

Both changes come as part of the cost-sharing agreement among the county’s libraries.

Since 1966, taxpayers in Dane County communities without a public library have paid an annual tax that supports the overall county system. The taxes, paid in 2010 by 42 municipalities and totaling $4.47 million, primarily fund materials and services at the county’s 26 libraries.

A smaller portion, 20 percent, funds outreach programs including bookmobiles and visits to home-bound residents in the towns, villages and cities without libraries.

Fitchburg taxpayers paid by far the most into the fund, $778,000 in 2010, 17 percent of the total, but will be exempt from the tax when its own library opens.

“The overall pot will shrink drastically,” said Library Board member and Madison Ald. Larry Palm, 15th District.

But Chase cautioned that the revenue drop could be offset in part or in full by a corresponding drop in expenses related to serving Fitchburg’s approximately 25,000 residents. 

“The revenue side will get smaller, but the expenditures will get smaller, as well,” she said.

The system’s electronic checkout system tracks every book checked out and where each cardholder lives. Funds are then reallocated each year based both on total volume of checkouts at each library and number of out-of-area patrons using each library.

It’s possible that the main libraries used by Fitchburg residents — Madison, Oregon and Verona — could see a sharp drop in use by Fitchburg residents and corresponding savings in operating and staffing costs, Chase said.

Still, the system is entering a great unknown, having last faced such a funding transition more than a decade ago when McFarland opened its library.

“We have made guesses” about the financial impact, Chase said, “but the one thing I can assure you is every guess we’ve made will be wrong.”

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