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Harper Woods

January 25, 2013

Library officials concerned about financial forecast

By April Lehmbeck
C & G Staff Writer

HARPER WOODS — Residents support the library and let that support be known loud and clear when they passed a millage a couple of years ago, but financial challenges are wreaking havoc on the bottom line for community libraries.

That has library officials on alert to make sure they can pull through the tough times without affecting the quality service that the library provides — and while continually trying to improve those services.

“Harper Woods residents rallied in November of 2010 and generously supported a millage of 1.0 for enhanced library services,” library board President Michael VanDeMark said in an email. “However, the factors that continue to vex all southeastern Michigan communities have hit Harper Woods with a jolt.

“Thanks to the millage and wise management of our wonderful facility, we have been able to maintain the high standard of service, programming and materials available for circulation, as in the past,” VanDeMark said.

While that millage was key to the library’s continued success, there are some factors that are eroding the library’s financial abilities.

In the library’s latest newsletter, Director Dale Parus spells out some of the challenges after mentioning some good news about the library’s positive rating on the Library of Michigan’s Quality Service Audit Checklist program, which Parus credits to the support of the residents with the millage.

However, there are two higher rating levels, and financial constraints are preventing the library from offering the enhanced services for those higher ratings, Parus said.

The challenges, though, have to do with the continued stress that declining revenue has on the library.

“The not so good side of the story is that the library budget will continue to be challenged because of the ongoing erosion in funding,” Parus stated in the newsletter.

“In ‘normal’ times, the additional 1.0 mill from the makeup millage would have guaranteed that the library board and the administration would have been able to begin work on providing a very high or even premium level of service to the community, including more public hours, materials and services …” Parus stated. “Unfortunately, the ability to reach the next service level, a goal of our strategic plan, seems to be continually challenged by events.”

Parus said he included the information in the newsletter because he wanted to make the residents aware of the challenges facing the library’s budget due to many factors like significant reductions in property values affecting revenue.

He mentioned other factors that are challenging the library’s budget.

For instance, Parus stated that Michigan has cut back its stated aid for libraries by 75 percent and there has been a reduction of funding from the Wayne County penal fines of 60 percent in the past several years.  

“The cumulative effect is a reduction of more than $135,000 per year to the library,” Parus stated in the newsletter.

There could be future losses from other areas in the near future, as well.

Yet, despite the challenges, library officials feel comfortable that they’ll be able to forge ahead as they move to start work on the five-year strategic plan for 2014 and beyond.

“We can only be optimistic about the future,” VanDeMark said.  

The library may have set itself up to weather the storm.

“Although the trustees and I think that there has been enough of a fund balance accumulated in the past two years to make it through the worst part of the situation, we don’t know for sure because of the rapid changes. We literally cannot plan reliably beyond one budget year.”

For those who want to take part on brainstorming ideas or volunteer at the library, there are opportunities, Parus mentioned in the newsletter.

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