District library talks continue 2014.07.09

By DAVID GREEN

The local District Library Planning Committee made some progress at its fourth meeting July 2, but there's still no agreement in place that would allow the next step in forming a district library from Morenci's Stair Public Library.

With declining revenue from the City—and less revenue expected due to tax cuts ordered from Lansing—the library board voted to explore other funding options before its fund balance is gone. City council's budget is forcing the board to contribute $17,000 of its savings to operate in the current fiscal year—the most yet in more than a decade of shortfalls—and eventually the library would be forced to severely curtail its operations.

The district library approach would create a library millage that residents in Morenci, Seneca Township and most of Medina Township would pay. About 20 percent of Medina Township residents will pay a millage to the Hudson library district if a millage vote passes in August.

The eight-member planning committee—with two representatives each from the City, the two townships, and the existing library board—must make decisions on several details in order to create a District Library Agreement:

• Will the district library board be appointed or elected?

• How long will members serve?

• What percentage of the budget, if any, will be paid by each municipality?

It's also customary for the committee to determine a minimum millage rate, but it's the new board that would set a millage rate for voters to consider.

In Stair's situation, the board would also address questions such as:

• Will the building be leased from the City or still owned by the City?

• How will current employees be transferred to the district library?

• What will be the name of the new library?

At this point, the only provision determined by Stair's planning committee is the library's new name, Stair District Library.

Planning committee members discussed last week the possibility of continued city support in addition to a millage. Medina representative Russ Tompkins thought that would be unfair to Morenci residents to have part of their tax money go toward the library and then have to pay a millage in addition. Library board president Sally Kruger agreed.

Without support from council, the millage rate would have to be set at a high enough level to adequately support operation. A suggestion of 0.75 mills was made at a previous meeting, but projected costs show a need for 1.25 mills.

Tompkins noted that the committee can't move forward in its job of creating a district library agreement until all members are in agreement to seek a district.

Seneca Township representative John Gould said the measure would have failed if he had brought it up at his last board meeting due to too many unanswered questions.

"Let's talk about the number of board members and the make-up of the board," he said. "That's a big question mark on our end."

If members are appointed, between five and eight are required. That could be two from each municipality, Krueger said, and if an odd number is desired, one at-large member could be selected.

Stair representative Heather Walker said she had some concern about forming a wholly new group with no experience in running a library. She suggested retaining some of the existing board at least for the first year of operation.

Audience member and Morenci resident Gayle Hazelbaker, who serves as director of the Tecumseh District Library, said the seven members of her board were initially appointed by the planning committee and then elected as their first terms expired.

Elected members tend to draw people who are interested in serving, she said, and that method also makes for a more democratic process.

Hazelbaker said the City of Tecumseh joined with six townships to form a district that now has a millage rate of 1.35 for 10 years. She urged the group to set a millage rate high enough to cover all costs without support from city council. As a Morenci resident, she agreed that it wouldn't be right for city residents to be charged twice.

Walker wondered if it would be difficult to fill elected board seats since the Stair district population is much smaller than Tecumseh's. Morenci representative Michael Sessions acknowledged concern expressed by Gould about the township board not agreeing with decisions made by elected representatives.

At a previous meeting, Gould spoke of a situation in Hopkins, Mich., in which the township board did not like the actions of its appointed district library representatives and wanted them removed from office.

Stair Public Library director Colleen Leddy said she spoke with the Hopkins director who said the board members in question were doing the job they were supposed to do.

"That's something we need to learn more about—the responsibility of district library board members," Leddy said.

Board members are generally advocates of the library.

Gould suggested that the by-laws could address the removal of board members as well as their appointment.

Audience member Cinny Tompkins questioned his support of the district library proposal. At the last township board meeting, she said, Gould stated his opposition because there were too many unanswered questions, such as the millage rate. Tompkins pointed out that it's not the responsibility of the planning group to come up with the answers.

"Are you not in favor of putting it before the voters of Seneca Township?" she asked. "You wanted to be part of this committee, but you don't want to keep the process moving forward."

Morenci City representative Sean Seger said he thinks there is some progress being made by the committee and he's willing to place a resolution before city council to seek its approval. Russ Tompkins stated earlier in the meeting that he thinks there will be support from the Medina board.

Sessions said it’s important for all partners to feel comfortable with the process, as well.

Several township residents in the audience spoke of the library's value to them and others. Hazelbaker spoke of the library as "the people's university" that helps level the playing field between the have's and have not's. 

"The library impacts the quality of life in Morenci and the surrounding area," she said. "It's the duty of elected officials to make sure it happens."

• The committee will meet at 7 p.m. July 16 at the Stair Public Library annex. The director of the Hudson Carnegie District Library will be invited to speak. The public is welcome to attend all meetings.