News Story

Payroll Size Questions Put Hold On Rochester Hills Library Tax Hike

Where are the library books? Official asks why not user fees for nontraditional programs

The director of the Rochester Hills Public Library says the library needs a property tax hike. It receives financial support from a tax of 0.75 mills in Rochester and Rochester Hills, with equivalent amounts collected by Oakland Township and paid to the library under a service contract.

“Expanding to provide services our patrons want will call for additional expenditures for which there is insufficient revenue,” wrote library director, Christine Lind Hage, in the library’s spring 2019 newsletter. “That’s why the Library Board has decided to put a 0.31 millage proposal on the ballot later this year.”

According to Hage, more than 83% of the library’s budget comes from the tax. But reportedly the current tax rate is not high enough to keep pace with the services the library provides, even though rising property values have increased the annual amounts collected by the levy.

The improvements the library board wants to implement include reduced wait times for popular items, extended hours, an end to fines for overdue materials, more meeting rooms, updated public restrooms, reliable bookmobiles and facility repairs. Also on the list are “better services for a diverse population.” The same newsletter promotes an already-extensive array of community, youth and other service programs, including reading groups for English language learners.

On June 16, the Rochester Hills Public Library trustees formally asked the Oakland Township Library Board to put the property tax increase on the township ballot.

But the request was quickly suspended when that board had questions about the library’s finances.

“We decided to ask them some follow-up questions about their financial strategy and to provide some data to back up the claims they made about certain cost-saving initiatives,” said Andy Parker, who serves on township’s library board.

According to the library’s projected budget for 2019, personnel costs make up 69% of total expenditures ($3.2 million), while just 16% ($750,000) goes toward books, audiovisual materials and subscriptions. That gave Oakland Township officials cause for concern.

“They’re asking the taxpayers of Rochester Hills and now Oakland for more money,” said Parker. “My stance was that we need to do our due diligence. It comes down to accountability.”

In response, the Rochester Hills library board tabled the initiative, which will not appear on the ballot in November. Hage told Michigan Capitol Confidential that “no target date has been set” for an election and declined to comment further.

Parker said he expects the proposal to return in a year or two, but he remains fundamentally opposed to it.

“I believe there are different approaches to increasing revenue if they really need it,” he said. “Perhaps a user fee for some of the activities outside the traditional function of a library — arts and crafts, children’s programs, things of that nature beyond the typical checking out of a book.”

For now, however, Parker said he is pleased with the library’s decision to postpone the request.

“I think this shows that a very small group of people pushing back and asking the right questions to understand the situation can make a big difference.”