Voters Resurrect County Library in Oregon, Deep-Six Service for Michigan Town

November 10, 2010

Libraries in many parts of the country were heartened to see voters approve their operating levies and capital bonds after several years of struggling to make ends meet and keep their doors open. In particular, a 52.8% yes vote for Hood River County (Oreg.) Library will enable it to reopen next year after lack of funds forced its closure July 1. However, Troy, Michigan, library’s second levy in less than a year was defeated by 689 votes, triggering preparations to shut down the entire system next summer. (The first, which was part of a millage for all city services, lost by 2 to 1.)

Oregon State Librarian Jim Scheppke told American Libraries that Hood River County Library “lost their library district election in May by 54% to 46% so this was quite a turnaround.” He added, “The downside is that they had to significantly lower the permanent tax rate they were requesting from 70 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation in May to only 39 cents per $1,000 in this election. They’ll have to make up the difference with fundraising, volunteers, etc.”

Scheppke noted that the Hood River County “yes” vote was one of five Oregon library measures that passed November 2. The only initiative in the state to be defeated was a Lake County bond measure that would have generated the remaining funds needed to complete two new branches.

The mood is understandably dour at Troy Public Library, whose funding crisis has become fodder for political drama at city hall since council members cut $1.4 million from the library’s FY2011 budget in May (PDF file), leaving TPL with $2.26 million and precipitating the layoff of one-third of its staff and the end of Saturday service. City council member Martin Howrylak sent a letter October 26 to Troy residents urging the defeat of all four millage proposals, which varied between 0.9 mills and 0.999 mills per $1,000 valuation and would have created an independent library district, motivating the mayor and several other council members to seek his censure. Howrylak’s letter, according to the November 4 Troy Times, had stated: “The current year’s budget for the library is $2.26 million. Therefore, each of the four ballot proposals would over-tax property owners for library services.”

Although the censure movement ended at a November 8 city council meeting, the anti–tax hike group Troy Citizens United is continuing its campaign to keep the library open without raising local taxes—citing revenue and expenditure figures comparable to those Councilman Howrylak had disseminated. Ironically, he now favors a 0.5-mill to support the library, saying in the November 3 Detroit Free Press, “It still needs, I think from a policy perspective, to be put to a vote of the people to get that support.”

However, Director Cathy Russ believes that “a .5 mill will not support library operations for the long term” because the resulting $2 million “is less than the library’s current budget.” She told American Libraries, “I think, overall, the issue is not anti-library; it’s about how to pay for it.” An avid Troy PL patron for more than 30 years herself, Russ feels strongly about the library’s survival. “My career goal was to be director of Troy Public Library, because it has meant so much to me personally and professionally,” she said.


Leonard Kniffel

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