Hazel Park library seeks extra half-mill this August

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published March 23, 2016

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HAZEL PARK — The Hazel Park District Library has made many cuts in recent years, such as reducing hours and staff, and slashing the materials and programming budget. With the exception of the replacement of its heating and cooling system, the library hasn’t spent any money from fund balance either. On the contrary, it’s been adding money. 

But it still hasn’t been enough to restore the library to its former self.

So the library will be seeking an additional half-mill Aug. 2. For the average household in Hazel Park, this would cost an extra $10 a year.

Currently, the average household pays about $40 for library services.

A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value.

The millage election is made possible by the library’s recent reclassification to a district library. In its previous standing as a PA164 library, it was capped at 2 mills — a relic of the late 1800s. Times have changed, and with it how libraries are used. The demand for technology and other services continues to increase, and with it the cost of providing those services. But the funding hasn’t kept pace.

As a district library, it can now ask for that extra half-mill, which officials say will make a world of difference at minimal cost to taxpayers.

“It will only bring in about $80,000 a year, but for us that is significant,” said Corrine Stocker, Hazel Park’s library director. “Hopefully it would allow us to open the library Monday through Friday, since currently we’re closed on Monday. It would also allow us to restore a portion of our materials budget and allow us to have enough staff to do more after-school programs for kids and more outreach to the schools.”

The library is very important to the schools, now more than ever, because the media centers are currently closed in Hazel Park Public Schools — part of districtwide cost-saving efforts. Volunteers at each elementary school keep them open a few days a week, but the students otherwise rely on the Hazel Park District Library for checking out books, working on research projects and more.

The district has paid for a subscription to TumbleBooks, a collection of interactive e-books available to students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Students can access TumbleBooks through the library’s website using their library card, and all students in the district are eligible for a card, regardless of where they live.

Stocker said it’s important to her that the kids have somewhere safe to hang out at the end of the day.

“I really want kids to be able to come to the library for whatever reason every day after school,” she said.

Amy Kruppe, superintendent of Hazel Park Public Schools, noted in an email that the students in the high school art club have been working to decorate the library under the guidance of resident Laura Weidman, and that the library is also part of the district’s community engagement committee.

“The school and the library is an important collaboration,” Kruppe said. “We look forward to our ongoing relationship.”

The situation
Funding for the library has dropped about 50 percent since 2009, due to the way property values plummeted during the Great Recession. And while they’re starting to rebound, the interaction between the Headlee Amendment and Proposal A limits the amount of revenue that taxing jurisdictions can collect from an increase in property values.

State support is also a fraction of what it used to be. The library received close to $20,000 in state-shared revenue each year back in the 1980s, but in the last decade the number has been closer to $8,000 each year.

With funding down 50 percent, the materials budget has also been cut in half. This includes physical items such as books, audiobooks, music CDs and DVDs, as well as magazine subscriptions. Programming has likewise been reduced.

Many cost-saving measures have been put into effect. The library is now closed on Mondays, and is only open half of the day on Fridays. And the library director is the only remaining full-time employee with benefits.

Donations have saved the library a lot of money. The Canton Public Library decommissioned around 40 newer computers and donated them to Hazel Park. The Capital Area District Library in Lansing then donated about 40 newer flat-screen monitors. And the library recently received a $10,000 annual donation from the Eppert Family Foundation.

The library has also resumed its letter fundraising campaign to local businesses, which so far has brought in about $1,000. But aging equipment and infrastructure continue to take their toll. Recently, the library spent about $5,000 doing minor roof repairs. The library also had a big capital expenditure replacing its heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

That’s why volunteers have been vital for the library. The Hazel Park Library Friends are the private fundraising arm of the library, and their fundraising efforts have been essential to maintaining popular programming at the library. In the month of December alone, volunteers put in a combined 200 hours, and that was in a month when the library was closed for a week.

While attendance was down in 2015 compared to 2014, this can be attributed to the fact that the library was closed on Mondays and half of the day on Fridays. Stocker said that the library’s online services have been swelling in number, with more and more users logging onto

Overdrive to check out e-books and other materials from the privacy of their home.

She also noted that many people continue to use the library for its free Wi-Fi, with wireless usage almost doubling in 2015. Many homes in Hazel Park still lack a dedicated Internet connection, yet it seems that more and more residents have wireless-enabled mobile devices, Stocker said. These people will bring their smartphones, tablets and laptops to the library to conduct business. Some even use the library’s wireless signal from their cars out in the parking lot.

The library also maintains a collection of career resources, and its computers get plenty of mileage helping people find and apply for work.

These days, even low-income fast food jobs often require online applications. Even with taxes, the IRS wants it done online. And then there are elderly residents trying to get Social Security benefits. The library staff helps them cross the digital divide.

“One of my librarians, Christine Walny, spends Tuesday and Thursday helping people work on their résumés and apply online,” Stocker said.

“Libraries have changed. Instead of just being repositories for books, now we’re community centers doing programs and offering services, being so many things to so many people. But it comes at a high cost where we have all the technology we have now. Our funding is going backwards, but what (services) we’re expected to have is increasing.

“Essentially, we’re the last library standing (in Hazel Park),” Stocker said. “I think the people of Hazel Park deserve a library that is on more equal footing with libraries of surrounding areas.”

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