From the Director: Is Your Library’s Funding Safe?

Libraries and other organizations such as schools, police and fire departments that provide essential tax-supported services have been working with state lawmakers for nearly a year to brainstorm ways to replace the business equipment personal property tax (PPT) if it is eliminated

Replacement is critical because without it, the services Kent County residents rely on will be at the very least irreparably damaged, and in some cases may cease entirely. Kent District Library applauded senators who recognized the value and necessity of our services, and were heartened that a “poison pill” replacement provision was included in a Senate measure that passed on May 10. While this solution is far from perfect, it is better than nothing. The provision provides that if a future legislature fails to restore revenue lost by elimination of the PPT, the PPT will be restored.

But wait. Now there are rumblings that the State House of Representatives may remove the provision, which if true, would damage KDL’s voter-approved tax funding and the services we offer to more than a quarter-million people throughout Kent County. It would also mean the year of negotiations between the Senate and governmental tax-funded essential services was utterly meaningless.

We agree the PPT is not a wise tax; why penalize businesses for trying to grow? But the services it funds – municipalities, schools and, of course, libraries – are anything but unwise. These are the entities voters have said again and again are worthy of their tax dollars. These are services that keep property values steady and growing – and thus communities vibrant – and convince businesses and people to move in and to stay.

I can say with absolute confidence that Michigan’s libraries do not take advantage of voters’ generosity. Libraries in this state saw state aid decrease in 2011 to levels not seen since 1978 – that’s the level of de-funding you think of when organizations say they’ve cut expenses to the bone.   

Despite cuts, we’re offering programs and materials that are keeping libraries more vital than ever to people’s lives. KDL cardholders number at nearly a quarter million – and that’s just our library system. In April, more than 1,000 new people signed up for library cards and in February, more than 3,000. Our early childhood literacy programs have become musts for Kent County parents and educators. Our computer and job skills course offerings are often filled to capacity, which is notable in that Gov. Snyder was quoted in a news article last year as recommending people depend more on resources at public libraries for their job searches.

At KDL, the PPT accounts for nearly 9.1 percent of our operating budget. If it is not replaced, the cuts will go inside the bone. What will happen is libraries will be forced – against our and voters’ wishes – to take the services they bargained for away from them. Another possible repercussion could be a tax increase on homeowners to pay for the services residents have come to expect.

Your state’s public libraries are not asking for more money; we’re asking that we be able to continue to provide the services we agreed to provide, with the funding voters approved.

Lawmakers, please follow through on the good-faith promises you have made regarding replacement of the PPT. Library supporters, please tell your legislators your thoughts about losing services you voted for.

Thank you for your support,

Lance Werner, director
Kent District Library

 

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Written by Lance Werner

Lance Werner

Lance Werner is the director of Kent District Library, the state’s second largest public library system. Before coming to KDL, he served as director of the Capital Area District Library in Lansing, and as Library Law Specialist at the Library of Michigan. He lives in Rockford, Michigan with his wife and four children.



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4 Responses to “From the Director: Is Your Library’s Funding Safe?”

  1. Frank Says:

    Mr. Werner,

    In this post you state the following:

    “I can say with absolute confidence that Michigan’s libraries do not take advantage of voters’ generosity. Libraries in this state saw state aid decrease in 2011 to levels not seen since 1978 – that’s the level of de-funding you think of when organizations say they’ve cut expenses to the bone.”

    Not sure if we’re seeing the same things, but have you seen the articles about the outrageous spending at the Grand Rapids library? Executive salaries, insane spending on travel, all while the lowest paid workers either get the boot or have to see their benefits disappear. Let’s not forget that the bosses don’t change a thing for themselves. What wonderful leadership by example.

    Now, I’m not familiar with your library, but if you’re anything like your counterpart in Grand Rapids it’s a slap in the face to your customers to suggest that there’s no other way to cut than programs.

    http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2012/02/grand_rapids_library_budget_pl.html

    http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2012/04/grand_rapids_library_travel_sp.html

  2. Lance Werner Says:

    Thank you for taking the time to express your feelings about my blog post. Due to the changing library funding landscape in Michigan, we have had to make budget cuts at KDL and will likely continue to make cuts in the future unless that landscape changes for the better. We have worked hard to trim across all budget lines to protect services for our library users. Thankfully, we have been able to eliminate staffing positions through attrition and have not had to lay off any employee at any level. This summer we will eliminate a senior management position, again through attrition. Since 2010, we have cut over $1 million from our budget and we will likely have to cut more in 2013.

    KDL’s training budget is .71%, or less than one percent of our total budget. We believe this money is well spent. We invest in our employees’ education, so they can provide the best service possible for our taxpayers. Business is booming at KDL and we are busier than ever. KDL patrons have high expectations and we make every effort to meet and exceed those expectations.

    Even as demand increases for library resources, KDL’s revenues are shrinking. We are not asking for more funding nor are we complaining about falling revenues. We are asking the legislature to reimburse tax funds that support community services (like libraries), which they are intent on taking away. The personal property tax is not a good tax, but the funding it provides KDL and other taxing entities (such as schools, police, and fire) is invaluable and needed more than ever. We are asking for a creative solution that supports both businesses in the state as well as funds necessary community services.

    Once again, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    Lance Werner

  3. Frank Says:

    Mr. Werner,

    Thank you for your response.

    I suggest you talk to your counterpart in Grand Rapids about how to effectively manage a library system since it sounds like you’re doing the right things. All the bad press she generates can only hurt your efforts in the long run.

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