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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Millages and Materials: A Library Story

Every year, large groups of 3rd graders descend upon the Portland District Library and City Hall to learn about how government works.  As I take them on tours of the building, I always stop to ask if they know where the library gets its money.  While they always have a vague understanding of taxes and overdue charges, the finer points of library funding are unfamiliar.  I feel it's this way with most people . . . they have a vague idea of how the library pays its bills, but they'd be hard pressed to explain it fully.  

On August 2nd, the voters of Ionia County will be asked whether they want to renew the county-wide library funding that is already in place, with a small addition of funds to increase services.  As the library director, I thought I already had a pretty firm handle on the ins and outs of our funding, but as I worked through this process of getting the measure on the ballot and informing the citizens of the county, I learned even more.  

All six libraries in the county have the same four major sources of funding.  The percentages from each category may be different for all of us, but the sources are pretty much the same.  They are:

  • State Aid--Every year, the Michigan government agrees on a certain amount of money to be set aside in the state budget for libraries.  These funds go to the Library of Michigan, who uses it to pay for statewide databases, Melcat, and more.  A portion of these funds are also distributed, on a per-capita basis, to the public libraries in the state.  There are certain benchmarks we have to maintain--being open a certain number of hours per week, having a certain level of education among the staff--but as long as we do, we receive this funding. 
  • Penal Fines--Michigan libraries are constitutionally guaranteed penal fine income.  In other words, when overweight trucks are stopped on the highways, or when someone is pulled over and given a speeding ticket, the fines and fees associated with their tickets go to the library.  The amount of revenue that this generates depends on how many people break the law, who writes the ticket, what sort of ticket is written, and how many patrols are out, so the number can fluctuate wildly from year to year.  
  • Library Millages--Simply put, this is a portion of your property tax that you vote to set aside for a certain purpose . . . libraries, schools, fire departments, etc.  In Ionia County, our original one mill was approved by the voters in 1998 for 20 years, and supports all six public libraries in the county.  The funding can only be used for operational expenses, which means no buildings are renovated or constructed using these funds.  Most of the libraries in the county receive 50% or more of their annual income from the millage.
  • Donations, Fees, and Miscellaneous--While this is the category that people usually think of first when discussing library funding, it's actually usually the smallest source of income.  Libraries do make money from overdue fines, printing charges, fax charges, and other services provided, but we usually just charge enough to pay for the materials used.  Generous donations from our patrons are always useful, and round out this category.

So, those are the basics, which I tried to simplify as much as possible.  It can still be very confusing, though, so I hope that you'll share any questions you may still have, either via the blog comments, or by stopping by or calling the library.  I'll do my best to answer them!