Townships, city meet on future of library

LIBRARY FUTURE: Big Rapids Community Library Interim Director Miriam Andrus talks about funding for the library during a Big Rapids City Commission retreat on Monday. City officials met with five townships during the retreat about funding for the library. (Pioneer photo/Eric Dresden)

LIBRARY FUTURE: Big Rapids Community Library Interim Director Miriam Andrus talks about funding for the library during a Big Rapids City Commission retreat on Monday. City officials met with five townships during the retreat about funding for the library. (Pioneer photo/Eric Dresden)

BIG RAPIDS — The future of Big Rapids Community Library was on the forefront of everyone’s mind as officials representing five townships and the city talked Monday night.

Officials from Barton, Colfax, Grant, Green and Norwich townships sat down with Big Rapids City Commissioners on Monday during a retreat to discuss ways of funding the library. Representatives for Big Rapids Township did not attend and Home Township opted out earlier in the year.

Although several ideas were discussed on funding, ultimately, it’s good the officials came back to discuss the library’s future, Mayor Mark Warba said.

PRESENTING OPTIONS: City attorney Eric Williams speaks to five township officials and Big Rapids City Commissioners about funding options for the Big Rapids Community Library. (Pioneer photo/Eric Dresden)

PRESENTING OPTIONS: City attorney Eric Williams speaks to five township officials and Big Rapids City Commissioners about funding options for the Big Rapids Community Library. (Pioneer photo/Eric Dresden)

“The first part of it is to pass along the information and get the information out,” Warba said, adding he hopes to reconvene at the beginning of next year to have more financial discussions about it. “We know where we’ve been in the past and where we want to go in the future. So how do we get to that future?”

Warba doesn’t expect the city to seek the estimated $225,000 owed by seven partnering townships over the past decade, saying it is time for a “clean slate.”

“Part of the message from (city attorney Eric) Williams is to not repeat some of the past and to find a way to do it different and better,” Warba said. “I think we can. There’s an interest in that.”

Several options were presented, including a mill being taxed to city residents.

Another had the differences in penal fines and 0.3 of a mill owed by townships coming from the income tax that already is paid by township residents who work in the city.

But City Manager Steve Sobers said he was doubtful that the money received from the income tax would make up for it.

Another idea discussed was townships could take a vote to residents about contributing the money toward the library annually.

Grant Township Supervisor Randy Vetter expressed doubt a vote would pass among his constituents because there are more pressing issues. However, he said the board is still supportive of the library and wants to do what it can to help in finding a plan for its future.

Green Township Supervisor Bob Baldwin asked Interim Library Director Miriam Andrus how much she thought she would need for an annual budget.

Andrus said last year the revenue for the library was about $337,000. To be fully-functional, she’d need about $360,000.

Baldwin said if funding from his township would continue, marketing would be needed to make the library more prominent.

“We have to be able to sell it to our residents,” he said, adding he wants to be able to provide an exact cost residents can expect.

Last week, construction crews began working on exterior renovations at the Big Rapids Community Library.

The $1 million project is expected to take eight months. By the end of the renovations, Sobers said he hopes to have a deal in place with the six partnering townships.

Along with ideas for funding, city attorney Eric Williams produced an 18-page memorandum regarding the library organization and operations of the library.

In it, he outlined duties the city commission should have for the library, including entering service contracts with recommendation from the library board, collection and enforcement of the contracts, the city attorney should review all contracts.

More discussion was prompted by several pages outlining information on 0.3 mill’s the city could take from township usage.

In the early 1990s, the seven townships signed contracts with the city stating that each year they would fund 0.3 of a mill to the library through penal fines. If the penal fines didn’t add up to the amount of 0.3 of a mill, the townships were required to make up the difference. The state requires these contracts to qualify for state aid.

For numerous years, the penal fines were enough to cover the 0.3 of a mill required by the contracts and the townships did not have to pay out of pocket.

During the 2002-03 fiscal year, a majority of the townships’ penal fines were no longer enough to cover the amount owed to the city. Part of the discussion on Monday revolved around state changes in 2000 that made those penal fines go toward other state items, rather than to the local library.

That trend has continued for the past decade, with the difference between penal fines and 0.3 of a mill steadily increasing each year. Collectively, the township’s owed the city about $225,000.

In that same time period, the city’s penal fines were added toward the library’s overall funding, which offset the differences for each township. The state’s analysis of the library’s funding only looked at the overall total, not the individual contracts. City officials later discovered that each township should have been paying the difference in their respective contracts.

Big Rapids Township approved paying $5,000 toward the difference in May.

Andrus said the 0.3 mill is needed from townships because that allows the library to receive state funding aid and be in the Mid-Michigan Library League. Currently, the library receives $8,000 in state aid.

The league allows the city to get books and media cheaper.

“Being a member of the cooperative, we get discounts on our book purchases of up to 40 percent, and on our DVDs and materials,” she said. “Really it’s not so much about getting the state aid, it’s being a member of a cooperative and saving all that money.”

Commissioner Tom Hogenson hopes the townships and city get the library the funding it needs.

“We just made an investment in that library to make it better, more usable and safer,” he said. “We should appreciate that in our discussions in how to pool resources to make it work.”

 

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