By Rosemary K. Otzman
The Belleville Area District Library Board had a packed meeting room for its special meeting on March 26 during which it had hoped to make a decision on how much millage it will take to operate the proposed new library on the DNR property on Belleville Lake.
The information for the board to study was passed out the night of the meeting and board members protested that they didn’t have enough time to study the documents.
Also, two members were absent: Christina Brasil, who was ill, and John Juriga, who was out of state.
So, a motion was passed unanimously to table the millage question until the April 8 regular meeting.
The time schedule to put the two library millage questions on the August ballot has called for the ballot language to be approved at the April 8 meeting, but board members said it could be approved at a special meeting in April to meet time constraints.
The decision to put a bond issue of $19.05 million for 20 years with a millage of 1.08 mill for the first year and 0.96 mill average for the remaining years was decided at the March 11 meeting.
But information on the operational millage to seek was not ready because Library Deputy Director Mary Jo Suchy was ill.
At the March 26 special meeting Suchy gave a lengthy presentation on the details that led to the three millage amounts she proposed, which depended on how much service they would offer to the community.
Each option is built on the present .7 mill taxpayers approved for 20 years to operate the present library.
• Option A – 1.5 mill (.8 increase) which would bring a total of $1,835,338 to the operating budget;
• Option B – 1.6 mill (.9 increase) which would bring a total of $1,957,694 to the operating budget; and
• Option C – 1.7 mill (1 mill increase) which would bring a total of $2,080,050 to the operating budget.
The plan is for the library board to decide at the next meeting which option to put on the ballot.
Suchy said all of the options will have the main library open seven days a week with expanded hours. Twenty-eight hours a week are planned for the Sumpter branch.
They will double the number of books, increase programming, do community outreach and offer teen activities, Suchy said.
She said the Belleville library no longer will be in the “per-capita lower quartile of libraries in the state” and, “We will continue our friendly and personal service.
“We’ve never done a branch before,” said Library Director Deb Green. She said the number of hours open and the staff there depends on how much the Sumpter branch is used. She said they will attempt to have two people in the building at all times in Sumpter Township.
Suchy said financial consultant Ron Traskos has been working with them on the revenue needed. (At the last meeting, Green said Suchy was doing it all and knew their numbers better than their consultant.)
Traskos said they expect a half percent of increase in revenue and they have built in some cushion on the revenue side. He said the 65% of the budget used for salary and benefits was notched up a few years, so there’s a cushion there.
“This is based on the digging and cross-checking we’ve done,” Traskos said.
Suchy said the Downtown Development Authorities capture 9.1% of the tax.
“It’s good to get a speeding ticket in Belleville, Van Buren, Sumpter Township,” said Green. “We get a small amount. It’s called penal fines. The last couple of years it’s been kind of low.”
“If you get a speeding ticket, you’re doing your civic duty,” Suchy joked.
Green said the fines for overweight trucks also help the penal fines total.
Architect Dan Whisler said they can expect the number of library cardholders to go up with expanded services.
“You’re going to vote on this?” asked John Delaney from the audience and Board President Mary Jane Dawson said she didn’t know. There would have to be a motion.
“I heard a board member say there is a lot to absorb,” Delaney said. “… If you get no millage this is a moot point … what’s going to happen if a millage doesn’t pass? I don’t see a parachute.”
Dawson said if voters pass the bond/millage for construction and not the millage for operation, they would try again for the operational millage at another election.
“When I voted for .7 mill I never thought it would be spent on architects and lawyers and consultants.” Delaney said, adding he hasn’t seen any upgrades to the present library.
“That is not a good location at all,” Delaney said referring to the DNR property at the curve on Belleville Road. “It’s a public safety issue.
“I’d like to see things improved here,” Delaney said.
Dawson asked him if he knew about the district library agreement that required the board to attempt to build a library.
“When are you going to allow the meeting to continue?” asked David Wilson from the audience.
Delaney said he hadn’t been to the meetings and he had to catch up.
Barbara Miller asked from the audience if the board had a agreement with the DNR on that property?
Board attorney John Day said the budget being discussed is to operate a library and the DNR site is the site they are hoping to use.
Day said if the bond passes, the board has the ability to find a site and build. The budget is established to spend money to build a building, he said, and they have tried to get land control – and they do have land control of the Spencer property next to the DNR site.
“But, Dan, aren’t you asking us to vote on your idea of this building?” Miller asked architect Whisler.
Whisler replied that the vote will be for a certain size library based on assumptions, but the ballot language won’t be specific as to site.
Miller said the only site they’ve talked about since October is the DNR site.
“It doesn’t matter if we don’t have agreement with the DNR,” Miller added.
Sumpter Township Trustee Alan Bates asked what would happen if the bond fails and the operational millage passes?
“If we passed the millage and not the bond … the board would not have the obligation to levy the millage,” said Day. “They would come back in 2015 and try again.”
Architect Whisler said the board could choose to levy a fraction of the millage to increase services.
Don Houtakker said from the audience, “If the library board has the authority to levy some of the mills, it could be a very well-appointed library.”
Houtakker asked about other Class V libraries as far as salaries and benefits.
Whisler said Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor are unionized and have higher salaries. “That a bigger factor in this than anything else,” he said.
Whisler said if the bond issue fails, the earliest they could come back and ask voters again would be February 2015. If the operating mills fail in August, they would have a week to get it on the November ballot for another try.
The board unanimously passed the Resolution to Approve Purchase and Terms for Acquisition of the DNR Property as presented by attorney Day.
He said he had made many changes to the draft that they had requested at the last meeting.
Miller asked for a change to paragraph 11 to add the word “solely” so it reads: “WHEREAS, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources will be solely responsible for paying the cost of designing and constructing the fishing facilities and related improvements on the site as provided for in the development plan…”
After the resolution was passed, Miller spoke to the crowd, thanking all the citizens who attended, since it makes a better discussion. She reminded them at the 7 p.m., April 8 meeting the board proposes to pass the bond and operational millage language for the August primary election.
By Rosemary K. Otzman