If the millage increase passes, library officials say new bookmobiles would be put into service for the 70-square-mile service area.

If the millage increase passes, library officials say new bookmobiles would be put into service for the 70-square-mile service area.

Photo provided by the Rochester Hills Public Library

Rochester Hills Public Library seeks tax increase Aug. 6

Library director: ‘For this library to thrive in its next century of service, we would need additional funding’

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published July 1, 2024


ROCHESTER/ROCHESTER HILLS/OAKLAND TOWNSHIP — The Rochester Hills Public Library is asking Rochester Hills voters to consider a millage hike in the August primary election.

“What is most apparent to us is that the building has critical infrastructure needs that will go unmet with the current funding that we have in place,” Library Director Juliane Morian said.

The proposal is for a 0.39-mill tax levy for 10 years. One mill is $1 per $1,000 of a home’s taxable value. The current annual cost for a $150,000 home is $109.50. If the proposal passes, they would pay an additional $58.50, for a total of $168 annually, according to the library’s website.

Although the costs to run the library have risen over the years, Morian said, the library’s millage has not changed since it was approved by voters a century ago, in 1924.

The 1924 millage that was passed by the then-residents of Avon Township was for 1 mill in perpetuity — which means it does not have to be renewed. However, the library did not levy that entire mill until 1978, because the Headlee Amendment came in. In a nutshell, Headlee requires a local unit of government to reduce its millage when annual growth on existing property values is greater than the rate of inflation, according to the Michigan Municipal League.

As the library looks forward to its next century of service, Morian said it is apparent to the library board that delivering a 21st century library experience with a 20th century millage is no longer sustainable.

“The building is more than 30 years old, and we are operating off of the same millage that was approved back in 1924. The operational dollars have not increased since then,” she said. “We’re proud of the fact that we’ve been able to live within our means for 100 years, but we feel it is important for the voters to understand that, for this library to thrive in its next century of service, we would need additional funding and additional investment from the community.”

The Rochester Hills Public Library began in 1924 as a 1,700-square-foot building for a population of 3,870 and has evolved into a nearly 75,000-square-foot building with over 1,100 visitors daily. It issues 553 new library cards on average each month. The library circulates 1.5 million items annually, and staff said they have seen demand for electronic materials such as e-books and e-audiobooks grow 20% in use over the last year. Meeting and study room use has also risen, resulting in 10,049 reservations in 2023, and 3,900 reservations in the first four months of 2024.

The library serves residents of Rochester, Rochester Hills and Oakland Township. While all three municipalities pay tax money — 1 mill — to operate the library, 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 0.7353 mills due to the Headlee rollback. The new millage asks for an additional levy of 0.39 mills for library funding for 10 years.

“It’s essentially 39 cents per $1,000 of taxable value on your house, which would bring the total levied amount to 1.12 mills,” Morian said. “The current rate of 0.7353 is in the bottom five of our region of local support for libraries, so there are only five libraries that pay a lesser millage rate than the citizens of Rochester Hills do.”

Rochester and Oakland Township contract with the library for service and have annual contracts based on the millage rate for Rochester Hills residents. If voters in Rochester Hills approve a new millage, library staff said a proportionate request would be made to these communities.

“Recognizing the uniqueness of how RHPL operates, the Board of Trustees works collaboratively to build consensus among all stakeholders, especially from the contract communities, and has devised a formula to propose equitable library funding based on a per capita fee,” Library Board President Melinda Deel said in a statement.

Library officials said that, if approved, the millage would generate an additional $1,724,195 in funding for the library.

The additional investment of property tax revenue and the updated contracts, Morian said, would allow the materials budget to expand to over $1 million annually, with priority given to popular materials and e-books. Sunday hours would be added year-round, program offerings would increase, building renovations would begin — with a possible new café — the building would obtain greater Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility, the roof would be replaced, the heating and cooling systems would be modernized, and new bookmobiles would be put into service for the 70-square-mile service area.

“Our library is thriving in terms of demand and volume and foot traffic, and we want to be able to meet the needs and expectations of our community members,” Morian said.

If the millage does not pass, library staff said funds normally used to expand and develop material and service budgets would need to be rerouted to fund critical infrastructure repairs in the next 10 years — like a new roof and updated HVAC systems. Budgets for new items, electronic materials and special services would be cut, limiting availability and increasing wait times. Staff and operating hours may also be reduced, the community bookmobile would not be able to return to a full-service bookmobile that allows for patron browsing and a larger collection, and the 23-year-old early literacy bus may not be replaced, eliminating service to 24 local preschools.

“At the end of the day, the building will persist, and it needs to be maintained like any commercial building, and those expenses, we will have to figure out how to fund them in our budget, and they will have to come at the expense of some soft portions of the budget that have more flexibility, but regretfully, that’s what the patrons will feel, in terms of materials, programs and services,” Morian added.

Cost reductions and cuts have been enacted at the library since 2010, Morian said, and include freezing staff wages for three years and reducing or eliminating staff positions, benefits, and health care plans. The library has cut back budgets for supplies and specialized consulting, deferred critical updates to infrastructure and furnishings, managed major projects and updates with internal teams, and downsized the community bookmobile to a utility van with abbreviated services when the used vehicle became too costly to repair.

For more information, visit rhpl.org/millage.

Rochester Hills Library Millage Proposal
Shall the limitation on the amount of taxes which may be imposed on taxable property within the City of Rochester Hills, County of Oakland, Michigan, be increased by $0.39 per thousand dollars (0.39 mills) of the taxable value on all taxable property in the City of Rochester Hills for a period of ten (10) years, beginning in the year 2024 and ending in the year 2033, inclusive, as new additional millage for the purpose of providing library funds for the Rochester Hills Public Library? It is estimated that 0.39 mills would raise approximately $1,724,195 when first levied with the December 1, 2024 levy.