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Harper Woods

March 12, 2013

Library board looks at financial options

By April Lehmbeck
C & G Staff Writer

HARPER WOODS — The Harper Woods Library Board of Trustees knows the financial challenge the library faces to maintain and improve services, so the board members seem to be leaving no stone unturned when discussing ways to help the library with its financial future.

During a board meeting last month, the board discussed everything from a possible bond proposal to innovative fundraising options, like a garage sale.

While no decisions were made on what they plan to do, the board is setting the groundwork to make a concrete action plan for the short and long term.

“It’s time to start working … (on) what the strategic plan will be for the 2014 through the 2017 time period,” library Director Dale Parus said, adding that the process needs to start during the middle of this year, at the latest.

Board members want to get members of the community involved in that process.

The board did decide to have a committee look at financial issues, and they are looking forward to the city manager attending the April meeting so they can talk to him, as well.

Residents demonstrated that they support the library when they passed a millage a couple of years ago. However, the library’s revenues have taken blow after blow, due to aspects that are affecting libraries across the state, including significant reductions in state aid to libraries.

There were a number of other financial issues that hurt libraries, as well.

The mills that the residents passed are worth significantly less than initially projected, due to significant reductions in property values.

“We need to start keeping track of all these dings to our budget,” board Vice President Theresa Larrew said, concerning the ability to explain to residents the financial picture.

Another issue is that it’s tough to project finances into the future because there may be more cuts or revenue losses down the line.

“We literally can only see one year out at a time,” Parus said.

They are hoping that they have set themselves up with enough fund balance to keep them going until things improve, economically.

That may not be possible without some type of change in revenue or expenses.

“We were able to amass a small amount of fund balance, and now we’re not going to be able to break even anymore,” Parus said.

Even if they can keep forging on into the near future, that doesn’t mean that the library will function at full speed. There are things they would like to do to take the library to the next level in service that the library just doesn’t have the financial resources to make happen.

“We really want to do some things to this library, and it’s a struggle,” Trustee and Recording Secretary Frank Sosnowski said of the financial picture the library is facing.

“That’s one of my frustrations, because I would like to see more money for programming,” board President Michael VanDeMark said.

Parus said there are a number of service and programming additions he would love to offer the residents, but they don’t have the financial wherewithal to add anything. For instance, there is a digital music subscription he could add.

“That would be one that would really be a great improvement for our … teens especially,” he said. 

“There are a whole bunch of products out there that are tutorial in nature, too,” he said, adding that Tutor.com is one. “That would be a wonderful resource, as well.”

He would also like to increase hours, since they have been cut back with some full days becoming half days.

VanDeMark said he remembers the last strategic plan.

“There was so much optimism then,” he said, adding that it was a different economy.

The idea of going to the voters for some type of millage proposal with possibly a quarter of a mill millage was discussed at the meeting. The city is maxed out on their current rate, so they are hoping they could seek something for a more focused issue, like maybe a technology bond.

Yet, the board is sensitive to the concerns of residents in the current economy.

“That would be a hard sell,” Trustee April Spraggins said.

Residents have been hit with a number of extra costs on their tax bills recently, due to the city’s special assessment and rising water and sewer rates, board members said.

The board wanted to preliminarily ask its attorney if a millage proposal at a specific designation would even be possible.

“It lets us know whether to stop thinking about it now,” board member Veronica Paiz said.

If it’s not possible, they would need to focus on more cuts, Parus said.

Larrew said she wasn’t ready to start looking into moving forward with bond proposals.

“I’m still thinking there needs to be a whole lot of discussion about it,” she said. 

The board members agreed that they wanted the City Council to play some part in the planning process.

As for fundraising in other ways, the library does apply for grants to help with programming and other needs. Also, the board brainstormed on that area, with Paiz raising the idea to host a garage sale on the front lawn or at a park.

“I would love to do it,” Spraggins said. “That sounds like fun, actually.”

“That’s a great idea,” VanDeMark said.

Others gave more input for the fundraiser plan, like having a bake sale or selling hot dogs during the garage sale.

“We could have a lemonade stand and all kinds of stuff,” Paiz said.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer April Lehmbeck at alehmbeck@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1043.