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 Rochester Hills Public Library DIrector Christine Lind Hage said the library will eventually need additional revenue to continue to offer high-quality services and programs, cover building needs and keep collections updated.

Rochester Hills Public Library DIrector Christine Lind Hage said the library will eventually need additional revenue to continue to offer high-quality services and programs, cover building needs and keep collections updated.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Library cancels proposed millage increase request

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published July 9, 2019


ROCHESTER HILLS — The Rochester Hills Public Library no longer plans to ask voters to approve a millage hike in November that officials previously said would help put the library on solid financial footing.

Following a lengthy discussion about a ballot proposal at a special meeting June 12, the library board unanimously decided to hold off on placing an operating millage proposal request on the November ballot, but to continue the discussion on the topic.

Library Director Christine Lind Hage said board members want more time to assess how changes in property values will affect the amount of a future millage proposal.

“These changes will influence future library services, repairs to the library building, and how we respond to program and service requests from residents,” she said in a statement.

Hage said that the last time the library organized a millage campaign was in the early 1990s.

“So we weren’t very experienced on it,” she said. “We did some focus groups, and as we gathered more information, we realized we wanted to get more information, so we just decided to postpone it and not set a date as to when we are going to go again or even what we are going to ask for.”

Although the costs to run the library effectively have risen over the years, Hage said, the library’s millage has not changed since voters approved it almost a century ago, in 1924. She said the 1924 millage that was passed by the residents of Avon Township was for 1 mill in perpetuity, but the library did not levy that entire mill until 1978 due to the Headlee Amendment — which, in a nutshell, requires a local unit of government to reduce its millage when annual growth on existing property is greater than the rate of inflation, according to the Michigan Municipal League.

The library board had planned to put before voters an increase of 0.31 mill for 10 years in November but has since decided to postpone the request.

“We were asking for 0.31 (mill) for 10 years, but there were some trustees that felt we should go for a Headlee override, and that would be about 0.25. The issue was that, and it’s not a huge difference, but each community has a different Headlee factor, so rather than one message, we are doing three messages that way,” Hage said. “We just had lots of questions, and we have a balanced budget for next year, so we decided to wait and see what we decide.”

The library currently serves the residents of Rochester, Rochester Hills and Oakland Township. While all three municipalities pay tax money of 1 mill each to operate the library, Hage noted that the communities of Rochester and Oakland Township do not have a vote on the library board, since they contract with the library for services.

In Rochester Hills, the 1 mill is currently levied at 0.75 mill due to the Headlee rollback — which Hage said amounts to approximately $2.6 million annually for the library.

In the two contract communities, Hage said, the annual payment adjusted for Headlee is also currently levied at less than a mill — which she said amounts to approximately $470,000 from the general fund in Rochester and about $803,000 from Oakland Township, paid for via a millage.

The library, according to Hage, began losing revenue in 2007, at the start of the Great Recession. By 2012, tax revenue from Rochester, Rochester Hills and Oakland Township had decreased by 20 percent. Hage said the library responded to the revenue decline by freezing staff salaries, reducing staff and staff benefits, delaying maintenance, rebidding service contracts, reducing various operating expenditures, and drawing down the fund balance.

Since 2012, she said, there has been a slow increase in property values and thus library revenue — which she said still lags behind what it was in 2009.

Hage said the library will eventually need additional revenue to continue to offer high-quality services and programs, cover building needs, and keep collections updated.

Library Board President Robert Bonam said that the board will continue to monitor changes in property values and develop a ballot proposal that accommodates any revenue improvements.

“Until a ballot proposal is presented to voters, the budget adjustments made during the recession will remain in effect,” he said in a statement.

Bonam said the board’s goal is to continue providing high-quality library services while the factors in the library’s financial environment stabilize.

“Board members are committed to prudent financial management as the board monitors the revenue situation. RHPL will strive to do its best to maintain the current level of services while delaying facility improvements, such as the resurfacing of the west parking lot and delaying action on requests for expanded services,” Bonam said in a statement.

Steve Reina — who is running against Bonam and current library board Trustee Anne Kucher for one of two six-year terms on the library board in November — said he chose to enter this year’s election after hearing the library would be seeking a millage increase. Reina said he still opposes a millage.

“I promise voters to remain vigilant on this issue and continue my commitment to fiscal responsibility on the part of the library, as well as transparency,” he said in an email.

For more information, call the library at (248) 656-2900.