Rochester Hills Library Proposes Tax Increase

Like most public entities, the Rochester Hills Public Library has seen its revenue stream decline in the last few years due to falling property values. So far, the belt tightening hasn’t affected services.

“But now we’re to the bone,” said library director Christine Lind Hage. “We can’t keep going on like this.”

The library is owned by the Rochester Hills Library Board and receives tax revenue from the cities of Rochester, Rochester Hills and Oakland Township. Residents of all three communities receive equal access to library services for equivalent tax contributions, Rochester Hills and Oakland Township through dedicated millages, Rochester through a contribution from its general fund.

A joint task force representing all three municipalities has been studying the revenue outlook. On Monday, the city of Rochester’s library liaison, Renee Myers, approached city council with the idea of increasing the city’s contribution by 0.25 mills, about $24 on the average home.

But the request was not met favorably by council. Mayor Jeff Cuthbertson said the city has cut its own expenses by 33 percent, while the library has only cut 15 percent.

“We’ve taken a very, very circumspect approach to the budget,” he said. “Revenue has never really entered our vernacular here. … So I think to get to a revenue discussion, there’s more work to be done from an efficiency perspective.”

Councilman Dave Zemens, who served on the future funding committee, agreed. “Based on the economy I see, I don’t think it’s time to increase the revenue,” he said. “I think it’s time to decrease the expenses with more vigor.” 

Councilwoman Kim Russell agreed. She said council had earlier turned down a similar request from the Older Persons Commission to recapture lost revenue.

“It’s hard to say dig deep; I don’t know where else you can dig,” she said. “To have a millage or to have the city cough up … I don’t see how that would be possible because we have asked our employees for so much.”

The library currently has a $2 million fund balance. But the building is 20 years old and in need of significant repairs and maintenance, including a new roof, Myers said.

According to a report prepared by Hage, the library’s revenue will shrink 12 percent from 2007’s level of $3.1 million to a projected $2.7 million next year. Since 2007, circulation has risen 22 percent, library computer usage 37 percent.

“The reason our programming hasn’t had to be cut is because of our wonderful Friends,” said Anna Biliti, president of the Rochester Hills Library Board. The Friends of the Library raise $140,000 a year, purchased the Bookmobile and fund library programs.

The library board would like to get a proposal on the 2012 ballot in Rochester Hills. It is seeking consensus in all three municipalities. Next week the request goes to the Oakland Township Library Board. 

After the meeting, Hage said she was disappointed but not surprised by council’s reaction.

“I can see where they’re coming from,” she said. “We have made cuts in our operations and staff. We have not made cuts to the public yet.”

Hage would like to let voters have their say. It could get awkward if all three communities don’t continue to provide equivalent funding.

“I don’t want to have to ask, ‘Where do you live?’ before answering a reference question or signing you up for a program,” she said. “We’re all one family and I’d like to keep it that way.”

Rochester resident Diane Young agrees.

“I think the voters should be allowed to decide if they want to support the library or not,” she said. “This millage amounts to about $20 a house here in Rochester. Since over 70 percent of Rochester residents have a library card, I bet they will support the library.

“The city council is operating on fear of not being re-elected because of a minute tax increase and that is short sighted. I believe in the democratic process.”


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