By Rosemary K. Otzman
“I want the public to know how much was wasted on a site that was resoundingly refused by the public,” Barbara Miller told the Belleville Area District Library Board at its regular meeting Jan. 13.
She said while the board’s CPA Ron Traskos estimated $165,000 at the last meeting, Miller said she believes it is at least $190,000 and probably more.
Miller, an attorney, said she had submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the library asking for documents on the money spent from the library’s operating budget and fund balance to pay for various aspects of the failed building proposal.
Miller asked for “a copy of the breakdown of the specific expenses of any kind and nature that were paid regarding the proposed new library” including, “… real estate options, property taxes attorney fees, architect fees, printing costs for publicity, design expenses for publicity, bond counsel and other consultant fees.”
She said she received an answer to her FOIA, but she is going to appeal it since she believes many invoices were not included.
Deputy Library Director Mary Jo Suchy said there were a couple of items missed in Traskos’ report, but he was reporting on the fiscal year.
Miller said, for example, the Thrun law firm wasn’t on his list. Also, all the property appraisals and real estate options weren’t included, among other omissions.
On the accounts payable list for the Jan. 13 meeting the board approved a Dec. 16 payment of $7,266.30 for summer and winter property taxes for the Jerry and Charlotte Spencer property next door to the DNR property that was proposed to be part of the new library site.
Paying the Spencer taxes for summer and winter 2013 for $7,152.33 was the option payment for the property, which was approved in 2013 by the district library board. According to tax records, that was paid Dec. 31, 2013.
The summer and winter taxes for 2014 were paid Sept. 10 and Dec. 31, for a total of $7,266.30.
No mention was made of the second tax payment before the accounts payable were approved at the Jan. 13 library meeting meeting.
But in the July 29, 2013 Option Agreement for Land Purchase provided to the Independent by Suchy upon request, the Spencers agree to grant exclusive right to the library to purchase 11933 Belleville Road at the library’s option until July 31, 2015 for the cash price of $595,000.
Besides the $1 paid to the Spencers for the agreement, the library also agreed to pay summer and winter taxes for the 2013 and 2014 tax years. The library has to inform the Spencers that they are buying the property on or before July 31, 2015 and the closing on the sale must take place before Oct. 31, 2015.
According to the agreement, the property taxes paid by the library for those two years would be deducted from the purchase price of the property. Or, if the option is canceled, the Spencers can keep all payments made to that date.
In other business at the Jan. 13 meeting, the library board:
• Witnessed the swearing in by 34th District Court Judge David Parrott of the four library board members elected Nov. 4: Lachelle Caver, Mary Jane Dawson, Sharon Peters, and Tanya Stoudemire;
• Reelected Mary Jane Dawson as chairwoman and Joy Cichewicz as secretary; and elected new members Sharon Peters as vice chairwoman and Tanya Stoudemire as treasurer. As the election of officers began, Stoudemire nominated Cichewicz for chairwoman, but Cichewicz declined the nomination;
• Approved a schedule indicating 15 days the library will be closed for various holidays and events. Board member Mike Boulter asked why the library was closed on Friday and Saturday of Strawberry Festival and was told people in the past just came in to use the restroom and drinking fountains. Director Deb Green said people didn’t come in for books. The library now uses the Friday of the festival as an in-service training day. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been open during Strawberry Festival, but we can think about it,” Green said. Later in the meeting Boulter said he had been rethinking his comments and the staff shouldn’t try to be open on Strawberry Festival because the people in town aren’t from this area and the traffic is heavy;
• Discussed the public survey that was approved in December and ways to distribute it. There were 90 responses reported, all on-line. Cichewicz said some large-print versions, twice the size at eight pages, were dropped off at the Sumpter Senior Center and Sumpter Township Hall. The library also has some large-print copies to distribute. Green said some surveys had been put out on the library counter earlier that day and five were filled out and returned. The deadline for surveys is March 31 and then the results will be compiled for the April meeting. Cichewicz said it is easier for them if the surveys are done online because otherwise they have to be entered into the database;
• Heard a report on the new thermal counter that records how many people enter the library. This is more accurate than the old counter which counted people who entered together as one. The new counter records from above and is recording twice as many people;
• Heard board member Caver suggest that the board might like to look at the day the meetings are held and consider a possible change. For years members of the meeting audience have been asking the board to set their meeting dates so Sumpter residents could attend. The district library covers the communities of Belleville, Van Buren and Sumpter, but the library meeting is held on the same night as the Sumpter meeting;
• Heard board member Peters say she was glad all the chairs in the audience were filled up that evening and she looks forward to engaging more of the community concerning the library; and
• Heard chairwoman Dawson say she will talk to each of the board members first before making her new committee appointments.
By Rosemary K. Otzman