River Country Journal
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March 8, 2013

Latest ‘Community Development Meeting’ reveals little interest in pursuing ‘district library’

The idea of a ‘district library’ – explored during the ‘Community Development Meeting’ (CDM) on January 24th – received further  attention during the CDM session on February 28th, but it appears there’s little interest in pursuing the matter further at this time.

The January gathering of representatives from the City of Three Rivers and the townships of Fabius, Lockport and Park featured Richard Butler, Jr., a Grand Rapids attorney with considerable knowledge and experience regarding the District Library Establishment Action (DLEA) of 1989, a statute that now governs the creation and operation of district libraries in Michigan.  The more recent meeting continued the exploration and included discussion of financial information shared by Cathy Lawson, finance director for the City of Three Rivers.  The information shows existing library revenues, revenues based on a one-mill levy applied throughout a district covering the city and the three townships, and projections showing both scenarios without the personal property tax (PPT), which is slated for elimination.

City Manager Joe Bippus moderated the discussion and noted that the group has been gathering on a monthly basis to explore ways governmental units in the Three Rivers area can work together to improve the delivery of services and save money, cooperation that is being encouraged by Governor Rick Snyder.

Joining city and township officials for the February meeting were Sharon Rogers, longtime chair of the Three Rivers Public Library Board, and Annette Ashby, Fabius Township’s representative on the library board.

In framing the discussion, Bippus said, “We are all very happy with our library.  We like it.  We don’t want to stop it.  We don’t want to hurt it.  But in light of the governor and some other legislative changes coming up, like the personal property tax potentially changing, should we consider organizing in a different manner?

It was indicated in the course of the discussion that – absent action by the Michigan Legislature to replace at least a portion of the revenue derived from the personal property tax – the library stands to lose $110,000.

Mayor Tom Lowry and Sharon Rogers, chair of the Three Rivers Public Library Board, during the ‘Community Development Meeting’ on February 28th. (Click on photo to enlarge)

Rogers voiced opposition to the idea of a district library and asked, “What do we cost any entity seated at this table out of their budget?  Zero.  We are self-funded.  We are not usurping a penny of the city’s budget so there is no cost savings to a municipality, to a county, to a township – there is no cost savings to anyone because every contract we have is voluntary and we cost the city nothing.  So, when you talk about formation of consolidating services and trying to save money, to go down this path is going to save nobody anything.  I don’t get why I’m even here.”

Mayor Tom Lowry said, “It doesn’t save the city any money.  It doesn’t save the townships any money.  What it does is save the taxpayer money.  It would save the citizen of Three Rivers money, but not the citizen of the townships.”

Referring to the financial support for the library that comes from Fabius Township, Supervisor John Kroggel said, “It would save the township money because that $56,000 would go into our other budget areas and it would cost the residents of the township a lot more.”

Rogers questioned the willingness of voters in the three townships to pass a millage to operate a district library and asked, “What’s their willingness to cut out another library that two of the three are now supporting because, in the formation of a district library, you can only support one?  Are you willing to cut those other libraries out, the two out of the three townships?

Lockport Township Supervisor Ray Signorello noted that the entire Nottawa Township Library Board was at the last Lockport Township Board meeting to express concern about the loss of funding from Lockport that would come from the switch to a district library.  Lockport Township splits its library contributions between the Three Rivers Public Library and the Nottawa Township Library.

Mayor Tom Lowry said, Tom:  “I’m all for trying to save money for taxpayers, but there’s a lot of uncertainty about putting up a millage out there, especially in these times.  We have a great library.  I admit I’m partial to libraries.  I admit that may influence my thinking.  I admit it up front.  But we have a great library, but I’m coming back with that adage that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’  We can talk about this because there may be a day, maybe within ten years or less, where we are forced to talk about it.  Right now, until we know with certainty what replacement mechanism is going to be there – it’s worth talking about, it’s worth running numbers.  I really don’t want to go out to the people and ask for a millage.  . . .  Right now, we have a millage that’s in perpetuity and we don’t have to vote so we’re blessed already that, in the past, the citizens of Three Rivers valued that library so much that they authorized it in perpetuity, without a renewal.  I don’t want to touch that unless we are forced to.”

Rogers said, “We have now service contracts with three districts that are very, very, very disproportional to what a citizen of Three Rivers pays based on usage.  These service contracts all expire in 2014.  Service contracts cannot be renewed if any one party decides that they’re not going to be renewed.”

Three Rivers Public Library – Usage Comparisons (Click on photo to enlarge)

Rogers presented information comparing financial support for the library – based on usage – and cited the following amounts:

  • City of Three Rivers – $9.27
  • Lockport Township – $1.27
  • Park Township – $1.55
  • Fabius Township – $4.12.

Rogers said, “The library contracts as they stand today are very, very, very disproportionate.  Those contracts going forward, as long as I am board chair and have the board support and board backing, which we took a straw poll on Tuesday at our regular meeting, are not going to be renewed as is.   It has to be a more like entity.  We cannot fund the townships’ usage of the facility on the backs of Three Rivers taxpayers. “

Rogers said, “The citizens of Three Rivers can’t continue to fund the usage for the checkout services and program services and subsidize the township people.”  And she said, “There are so many things that could go wrong by going down this path and spending money to go down this path to a district library.”

In regard to making support for the library more equitable among the governmental units, Kroggel suggested doing so over a period of several years.  And he said, “I’m just not feeling much momentum for moving forward until something more dire happens.”

Bippus suggested a “final wrap up” on the district library topic at the next CDM on March 28th.

For additional insights regarding the latest CDM conversation on the district library topic, click on the following link to hear a post-meeting interview with City Manager Joe Bippus, a conversation recorded by Bruce Snook of the River Country Journal(Joe Bippus interview – 3:06 – 2.84 MB).


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