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Library seeks tax hike to help offset revenue losses, maintain services

July 30, 2014 - (Editor's Note: Here's a recap of why the Oxford Public Library is requesting a tax increase from a story we wrote in April.)

A 10-year, 0.4518-mill property tax increase is being requested by the Oxford Public Library on the Aug. 5 primary ballot.

"As difficult as it is to ask anyone to reach into their pocket and give more money, it's something we have to do in order to be able to sustain the type and the level of service that we provide today," said Library Director Bryan Cloutier.

If approved, levy of the millage increase would begin with the December 2014 tax collection and end with the December 2023 bill.

One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of a property's taxable value. For properties with taxable values ranging from $50,000 to $100,000, the proposed library increase would cost owners $22.59 to $45.18 annually.

In its first year of levy, the proposed millage is expected to generate approximately $311,000.

Library officials say the increase is needed to help offset losses in tax revenue and continue offering existing services.

"This tax does not replace all of the lost revenue, but (it) will keep the library from making drastic cuts in programs and services in the future," according to a millage information sheet the library was distributing to residents.

Currently, the library is supported by two operating millages, a 0.6764-mill levy and a 0.7218-mill levy, for a total of 1.3982 mills. Both were previously approved in perpetuity.

If voters choose to approve the 0.4518-mill increase, the total levy would increase to 1.85 mills, which is equal to a combination of the 1-mill rate voters approved in August 1984 and the 0.85-mill tax they authorized in November 1995.

Over the years, the state's Headlee Amendment rolled back the two millages to their current rates. The proposed 0.4518-mill increase seeks to override those reductions and restore the millages to their initial rates.

In August 2012, the library requested a 0.4518-mill tax increase and voters rejected it 1,521 to 1,351.

However, back then, the request was for the proposed millage to be levied in perpetuity. This time, the proposed millage would be levied for 10 years, then it would be up to the voters to either let it expire or renew it.

This change was made in response to concerns expressed by residents, who didn't have a problem funding the library, but didn't feel comfortable voting for a millage that has no expiration date, according to Cloutier.

"Certainly, we understood that and that was something we took very seriously and took to heart," he said.

Cloutier explained it was decided to seek a 10-year millage, as opposed to a five-year one, in order "to provide a more stable foundation for the library moving forward."

The library's millage information sheet states that if the millage fails Sunday hours would be eliminated and "a reduction in hours would also equate to another round of staff reductions."

Cloutier said the cuts would "most likely" come in the form of reduced hours of operation as opposed to actually eliminating staff from the payroll.

"We've reduced the staff all that we can in that respect," he explained. "Quite frankly, I cannot operate this building with less people. I can't. I have to have a certain number of people in this building at all times when it's open to the public for safety and security (reasons), and to just be able to meet the demand (to serve the public)."

That being said, Cloutier couldn't completely rule it out.

"Ultimately, it could result in layoffs," he said. "We don't know at this point to what extent that would be. From the administrative perspective, I can tell you that it would be extremely difficult, nearly impossible, for me to operate this building with less people . . . I have to have a certain amount of staff in the building if we're going to open to the public – it's just the nature of the beast."

Subscriptions to popular databases such as Ancestry Library Edition and Reference USA "would be discontinued" if the millage fails, according to the information sheet.

However, if the millage is approved "library hours will remain unchanged" and "operations can be stabilized at current levels."

The information sheet also states the library will place a "high priority" on improving the budget for both print and electronic material "as well as restore the programming budgets back to 2007 figures."

The amount of tax revenue being collected annually by the library has decreased by nearly $400,000 (21 percent) since 2007 due to declines in property values.

Coupled with this revenue loss is the fact that the cost of living continues to increase for supplies, natural gas, electricity, etc.

"Everything that it takes to operate the Oxford Public Library on a day-to-day basis has gone up significantly over that time," Cloutier said. "During the winter months, our natural gas bills are anywhere between $3,000 and $4,000 a month. Likewise, our electricity bills average about $3,000 a month."

The library has made budget cuts in many areas to deal with its shrinking revenue and rising costs.

Since 2007, staffing levels have been reduced by 12 people. Retirement compensation packages were reduced by 50 percent, saving the library more than $30,000 annually.

Salaries have been frozen unilaterally over the past seven years, which has saved the library nearly $104,000 annually. Healthcare costs were reduced by $12,200 annually while energy consumption was reduced by $8,000 annually. The materials/books budget was reduced by $46,599 annually.

"We've done very well at scaling back our entire operation without it really having a direct impact on the public," Cloutier said.

At the same time, the library's also been "very successful" at adding new forms of technology along with new programs and services.

"As a result of that, I don't think the public really does realize, behind the scenes, how difficult it is to continue doing what we're doing without an increase in funding," Cloutier said. "We're sort of a victim of our own success."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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