Council won’t touch 1-mill tax hike to keep library open

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published February 22, 2011


A one-time fix that would have saved the Troy Public Library from closure this spring never came to a vote of the City Council Feb. 21, though the issue was presented in backup material for another agenda item.

Michigan Public Act 164 of 1877 allows municipalities to levy 1 mill to be held separately and used only for library operations, and the mill does not have to be approved by voters, only the council. Under the provision, the council could appoint an independent library board to run the library.

The option was laid out in a Feb. 16 memo from City Manager John Szerlag; John Lamerato, assistant city manager, finance and administration; and City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm to the City Council in material provided to the council for the Feb. 21 meeting.

More than a dozen residents braved snowy roadways and spoke about the library issue at the meeting.

“Voters in Troy want no new taxes,” Rob Carrigan, a resident since 1996, said.

Resident Irv Wengrow urged the council to put the question of what services to cut and keep to the voters in an up and down vote.

Eight-year resident Josh Keagle said that although he was laid off recently, he is “more than willing to pay to keep the library open.
My SEV (state equalized value) just dropped.”

Council member Maureen McGinnis said that two votes of the people indicate residents do not want tax increases. “We’re doing what they’ve asked us to do,” she said.

In November, voters defeated four ballot proposals, worded nearly identically, to establish an independent library board with tax hikes of just under 1 mill, and they rejected a 1.9-mill general operating increase last February.

Based on a home with a taxable value of $98,000, the 2011 city average, a 0.9885-mill increase would cost homeowners about $98 a year and raise an estimated $4.3 million a year. The library budget for 2009-2010 was $3.6 million, and it dropped to $2.7 million for this current budget year.

“Don’t even consider raising our taxes,” Deborah DeBacker, a member of Troy Citizens United, a group that opposes tax increases, said to the council.

Instead, she said she supports a resolution put forward earlier by Councilman Martin Howrylak, who proposed amending the 3-year budget and funding the library with investment gains from the city employees’ retirement system, employee concessions and reserve funds.

In a previous study session, however, Lamerato said that those funds were needed to offset revenue reductions, to keep the pension fund solvent and to maintain fund reserves over the next five years.

The council rejected Howrylak’s proposal 5-2. Howrylak and Councilman Wade Fleming supported it.

“The resolution has merit,” Fleming said. “We need to be adjusting the budget regularly.”

Howrylak said the financial information in his resolution is “true,” and the broader policy issue is that more frequent review of revenues and budget amendments are needed.

“The council should be more actively incorporating changes,” Howrylak said.

“It’s not the fix,” Councilman Dane Slater said. “It’s not realistic.”

Szerlag said that signs announcing the April 30 closure date of the library have not been posted at the library previously because of the pending action items on the council agendas in recent weeks. He added that following the Feb. 21 meeting, signs with the closure date will be posted at the library and on the city’s website.