Little Suamico residents turn down library plan

Fire station packed for Jan. 30 town electors meeting
By: 
Warren Bluhm
News Editor

Residents of the Town of Little Suamico have said, “no, thanks” to having their own library.

Close to 350 people turned out for a special town meeting at the Little Suamico Fire Station on Jan. 30 to soundly reject a proposal to buy an abandoned bank building for use as a town library and county offices covering the populous southern corner of Oconto County.

The unofficial tally was 192-148 against authorizing the town board to purchase the former BMO Harris Bank at 1288 East Frontage Road.

Establishment of a southern library was seen as one way to rid local property taxpayers of the annual six-figure invoice from Brown County, charging Oconto County for the use of its libraries — mainly in Howard and Pulaski.

Some opponents argued that the idea had already been decided at a Nov. 7 town meeting in which the resolution was defeated 37-31. The Little Suamico Town Board scheduled the second meeting in hopes of getting a better representation of opinion from the town, which has the largest population of any municipality in Oconto County at more than 5,500.

As residents filed into the fire station garage, and the line of people waiting to get in wrapped around the building and toward County Road S, Town Chairman Dale Mohr was cheered by the turnout.

“This is democracy in action. Have you ever seen anything like this?” Mohr said, as the standing-room-only crowd filled the room. “This is America at its finest. Only towns do this, electoral meetings — villages and cities don’t.”

The start of the meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m., was delayed more than 20 minutes as residents continued to file into the building and sign in.

Once it began, the meeting quickly got down to the business at hand. Former Town Supervisor David Pribyl and frequent critic Frank Nowak challenged the proceedings, arguing that the matter had been decided in November and challenging the official notice of the meeting, which did not mention that the resolution on the table was a reconsideration of the Nov. 7 issue.

Having anticipated the challenge, the board obtained an opinion from its town attorney, read by Supervisor Elizabeth Paape, which stated that “all statutory requirements have been met, and the meeting can proceed as scheduled.”

Pribyl read from a statute that stated the official notice must include that the meeting is about reconsideration of a previous decision, but Mohr said that statute specifically pertained to citizen challenges of a town electors’ vote, while the Jan. 30 meeting was initiated by the town board.

Shortly after that exchange, a motion was made to end discussion and move to the vote, which was done by paper ballot.

About 100 people stayed to witness the count by Town Clerk Lisa Glinski and Deputy Clerk Sharon VanDenHeuvel. Several people in the office kept a tally as the two women called out “yes” or “no,” and said the vote was 149 yeses to 192 nos, but the audience asked that the ballots — now separated into two piles — be counted anyway. That count reduced the yes tally by one.

Glinski said the sign-in sheets would be reviewed to ensure that only town residents voted, but that would not make a difference in the tally because the ballots could not be tied to any names.

In response to a question, Mohr said the board would not be holding a third town meeting about the bank purchase.

“We’re done. We’re not going to bring this up again,” Mohr said. “Thank you, though. This turnout is amazing. The people have spoken.”

The rejected plan would have authorized the town board to negotiate the purchase of the building, which has been closed for a decade, for almost $500,000, and remodel the structure for $370,000 for use as a public library, with offices leased to Oconto County for a sheriff’s substation and other county offices.

A combination of federal and county dollars and private donations would have funded most of the project, with the town responsible for $15,673 of the purchase cost and up to $159,630 of the remodeling.

A special Oconto County committee will continue its work on a library services plan for the years 2025-29. Town of Little Suamico residents pay an estimated $183,000 in property taxes for library services annually, which is distributed to the six local libraries in the county and to Brown County. Supporters had argued that establishing a library in Little Suamico would keep those dollars in the town.

The proposal was similar to a project now underway in the Town of Riverview, where the county is partially funding construction of a new community center. One wing of the structure will have a northern sheriff’s substation and county offices.

wbluhm@newmedia-wi.com