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November 17, 2010

Petition for city to operate a library raises questions

TROY — While a petition to require the city of Troy to maintain a library was turned in to the City Clerk’s Office last week, it remains unclear what effect it will have on the library, which is slated to close July 1, 2011. 

Ed Kempen, who spearheaded the initiative, turned in the petitions containing more than 240 pages and 2,560 signatures Nov. 9. At least 2,000 signatures were needed.

At the Nov. 8 City Council meeting he said the results of the Nov. 2 election “left the library up in the air.”

“There’s still money on the table in the budget — open it up,” he said to the council.

Last spring, the City Council approved a rolling three-year budget that does not include funding for the library past July 1 of 2011.

The Troy City Clerk’s Office began the process of certifying the signatures last week, which was hampered a bit because the state electronic system was down, requiring a manual check.

Troy City Clerk Tonni Bartholomew explained that when Kempen turned the petitions in, the Clerk’s Office was still involved in the canvass of the Nov. 2 election required by the county. She said all of the signatures, which are not in alphabetical order on the petitions, had to be checked for a number of things: The signature must be less than 90 days old, signed only once on the petitions, verified against the signature on file and checked against the list of registered Michigan voters.

“We’re allowed to have 15 days,” Bartholomew said.

The petition will not likely be presented to the City Council for consideration until the first meeting in December.

After the petition is presented to the council, members will have 30 days to either approve or reject the measure.

If the council does not enact the ordinance, the matter would not likely come before voters until May. The City Charter states that in the case of initiatory petition, if no election is to be held in the city for any other purpose within 150 days from the time the petition is presented to the City Council, then the council shall call a special election.

Bartholomew said that an election is scheduled for a portion of Troy in May to elect the Warren Consolidated Schools Board of Education. She added that the cost of a special election would run about $90,000.

Troy City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm said the defeat of the four library millage proposals on the Nov. 2 ballot does not preclude the issue from going to the voters again with a different amount. Councilman Martin Howrylak said that while he does not support carving out a new governmental entity to operate a library, a 0.5-mill increase to operate the library with a budget of about $2.26 million would be more appropriate. Prior to the 2010-2011-budget year, the library operated with a budget of more than $4 million a year. This past July, 27 library staff members were laid off, programming was eliminated and the library closed on Saturdays.

As was the case with the four library questions on the Nov. 2 ballot, only 50 signatures on a petition would be needed under state Act 164, which would establish an independent library board, to put the issue before voters again.

Bluhm said the Troy City Council would have the ability to either put the issue directly on the ballot or open up the budget.

She noted that the ordinance language submitted to the city clerk does not provide funding for the library. The charter states that if voters approve the ordinance, it cannot be amended or repealed for at least six months following the election.

The petition states: “In order to assure access to quality local library service, the city of Troy shall operate and maintain a public library open to the public for not less than 55 hours each week.”

“That is an administrative area which is really not covered by this type of action,” Bluhm said. She added that even if the council or voters adopt it, the ordinance does not provide a means of funding, or guarantee state funding, staffing, materials, space or programming.

“The petition does not do any of that,” she said.