Library approves millage request

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published May 7, 2014

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Clinton-Macomb Public Library’s board of trustees approved a millage request that will be on the ballot on August 5 of this year.

The request calls for an increase of .39 mills over an eight-year period, which would cost households in Clinton and Macomb townships with a market value of $150,000 an extra $29.25 annually. Residents living in the Mount Clemens School District who pay taxes to the Mount Clemens Public Library will not be affected by the millage.

The Clinton-Macomb Public Library (CMPL) had one mill of funding approved by voters in 1998, but that funding has since been reduced by 10 percent. The library currently receives $1.1 million less than it did six years ago.

The recent economic downturn further put the emphasis on the library board to properly address various concerns, most notably the 20 percent decrease in property tax revenue and the various staffing changes that have plagued various positions.

This particular millage request did not, however, come out of the blue.

“It’s something that has been on our radar the last 3-4 years,” said Library Director Larry Neal. “We have watched property tax values decline significantly, and those total over $1 million a year. The board has been looking at every possible expense and any other reduction we could make, and we’ve been successful in some regards.

“The writing has been on the wall that something has to happen. It’s difficult economic times many people are facing and this was the last thing people wanted to do. However, the gap has been significant enough, and the time has come where the board has said, ‘We’ve done what we can.’”

Neal said the library has done its due diligence in looking for different sources of revenue, such as purchasing the North Branch location. That building went into foreclosure, which cut rent payments in half and allowed the library to become landlords and make an extra $80,000 per year.

The numbers — .39 mills and eight years — were derived from an extensive financial forecast that took into account 10 years of expenses, all three buildings operating at full capacity, the rate of inflation, the new South Branch building, and anticipated expenditures and revenues.

Neal said that eight years provides enough time to see the economy thrive and property tax values return.

“Sometimes, it’s hard for people to understand because while property tax assessments can drop as much as they want, they can only go back up as much as five percent,” Neal said.

The bigger question was whether the library aspired to still offer services people enjoy, or whether certain aspects should be cut back.

Fred Gibson, the library board president since January of this year, said that it is important to maintain the library’s current format while making improvements over time. He wants the library to continue offering the same things as it did in the past.

“(If the millage passes) we would be able to expand North Branch services a bit,” Gibson said. “We would be able to resume some technology upgrades that we put off lately — restore the materials budget to where it was before.

“If it didn’t get passed, we would have to reduce things like equal collection. (There are) different systems we would have to eliminate. We would have to suspend things like children’s programming and story time, hours of service, and staffing by 20 percent.”

Neal said that the library has already eliminated seven out of 31 positions due to budget restraints the last few years, and there have been no employee raises since 2009. The library has also cut retirement benefits and health care services, and no legacy costs exist.

Many employees are part-time staffers who work hourly.

“We are very aware that it’s a yes or no situation,” Neal said. “If people say no, we’ll be making substantial reductions. When we look at what’s left, it’s materials and staffing costs. Materials, to me, is what people expect in their libraries, so we will not be eliminating our book budget. We are really concerned about our reputation.

“We’ll do the best that we can living within the new normal.”