June 25, 2014 - As a taxpayer, retiree and patron of the Clarkston Independence District Library, I'm responding to a column in the June 11 edition of The Clarkston News, attacking the upcoming millage request to fund our library.
In it, the claim was made that the 1.25-mill library proposal is an "outrageous and unreasonably high request." In fact, it is neither of those things.
Here's why: In the past, our library was a township library -- funded through the Independence Township's general fund. But that funding ended 10 years ago.
So how has the library been paid for? Residents familiar with the library's history say even when it was part of the township, officials realized – decades ago, when there were far fewer residents – that it would require a supplemental millage to operate it at a proper, functioning level.
A levy was set to help fund the library, but over the years that millage has been rolled back under state law to the current level of .691 mills. In recent times, this has generated about $1 million a year, the library's (shoestring) budget.
Now, if someone can point to a library in a neighboring community being run at this millage level and funding – specifically in a community comprising 35,000 residents – I think we would all like to hear about it. But there isn't one.
The nearest community of comparable size to Independence Township is Orion Township, where their fine library and its popular programs are supported with a 1.4-mill rate and a budget of more than $2 million.
So comparatively, the 1.25-mill proposal for a good, adequately funded Clarkston area library – one that has been heavily utilized by residents – isn't "outrageous," given the population growth that took place over the years and the increased demand for not just books, but eBooks, books on CD, DVDs, music CDs, large-print books, computers, access to genealogical and other data bases, and programs and services for children, teens, seniors citizens and others too numerous to mention here.
To sum up this history, township funding of the library has long since stopped, and the library made due on much less than the .75-mill rate set long ago as a supplemental source of funding, a rate that has been rolled back over the years. In the context of stagnant and diminished funding for the library over the years, an increase from .691 to 1.25 mills cannot be characterized as "huge."
Now, let's return to the point that the library is no longer a part of township government, but a district library. When the library was spun off, a committee of residents and local officials studied the matter and recommended that a 1.25 mill proposal be placed before voters.
They set a deadline in August of this year, by which time new funding had to be approved. The meetings on this were open and televised locally. Their recommendation – and discussions on it by local officials and the public – are a matter of record.
The committee that came up with the library funding request recognized that introducing a new levy to replace the old, inadequate system of funding the library could be a real chore, and it was.
There's a history here that isn't simple to explain, what with the changes in the library's status and funding. Thus when the proposal was put before voters during the fall election of 2012, it lost by less than 30 votes. Not exactly a mandate to kill the library, was it?
Many will remember that huge ballot, with many candidates and several statewide ballot proposals. Most of those ballot questions were rejected, as was the library millage – the very last question on the ballot. Having lost by a margin of a handful of votes, it is only right that library proponents be allowed to explain the measure and make a second – and final – bid for passage. If the levy is not approved, the library closes.
So to recap: The millage proposal is not some grandiose idea of a library Taj Mahal cooked up by unseen bureaucrats or empire-builders, but a reasonable plan from community members to put the library on a normal, solid level – to restore operating hours, expand collections and make overdue improvements to better serve patrons.
No conspiracy, no deceit, no dark intention. It's really a simple question: Do voters in Clarkston and Independence Township want a library, or not?
The suggestion in the June 11 column attacking the library proposal – that Independence and Clarkston voters should save money by rejecting the levy and using the Springfield Township Library – should not be taken seriously. Shutter the Clarkston area's library to avoid paying what amounts to a few dollars more per month for the average taxpayer? Great idea – if we are a community of deadbeats. But we are not, and we need to fund our community's library, not someone else's.
I don't enjoy paying taxes any more than the next guy, but this library levy has my unqualified support. Clarkston and Independence Township residents have to step up and fund their library or say goodbye to it and all its programs and services.
For the record, I am not a member of the Friends of the Library or of the Library Yes committee, although I'm in complete agreement and support both. Please join me in voting for this crucial library millage on Aug. 5.
Kim Crawford is a Independence Township resident.