Leelanau News and Events

On The Ballot: A Proposed Dedicated Millage & Independent Governance For Leelanau Township Library

By Emily Tyra | Sept. 21, 2022

Did you know Leelanau Township Library in the village of Northport operates differently from almost any other public library in the state of Michigan?

The Leelanau Township Library is one of just three township libraries statewide that is currently governed by its local township board. Michigan’s other 98 township libraries all have independent boards of directors, and those boards are entrusted with making the decisions about library finances, improvements, and more.

Members of YES! Leelanau Library, an offshoot of the Friends of the Leelanau Township Library (FOLTL) assert that the township’s unusual library governance model is holding the library back from growing and evolving.

The YES! group wishes for the establishment of the Leelanau Township Library under a different law governing libraries.

“This is a two-part process,” explains Mark Morton, director of neighboring Leland Township Public Library, which went through this reestablishment process in 2016. “First a dedicated millage for the library is voted on, then an independent library board is formed to manage the library.” Morton is also a resident of Leelanau Township and has volunteered to be on the committee to help the process along.

Last spring, YES! Leelanau Library members sought — and got — signatures from over two hundred Leelanau Township residents on a petition to place a dedicated library millage of .5 mills before the voters.

The measure will be on the November 8 ballot.

The Leelanau Township Board currently operates the library and funds it from General Fund tax revenues. The current 2022-23 library budget is $206,000. The proposed millage would allocate .5 mills to the library, resulting in estimated revenue of $238,000. This would equal 50 cents per $1000 of taxable value of property in the Township. (The average homeowner with a property assessed at $300,000 — taxable value of $150,000 — would pay $6.25 per month, or $75 per year, to support the library.) These funds would be overseen by an elected, nonpartisan six-member board, subject to the Open Meetings Act.

“Having a dedicated millage with an independent library board of trustees allows for long term fiscal planning along with the ability to make decisions based on the needs of the library and its patrons…without having to take into consideration other issues that may be going on in township government,” says Morton. “This also allows the library director to be responsive and innovative to help ensure the library remains relevant for generations to come.”

He adds that this would bring the library into compliance with current Michigan library law and place the township Library on the same financial and governance footing as the other libraries in Leelanau County, and almost every other library in the State of Michigan.

The entire community is invited to an information session on the proposed millage on Thursday, September 22, at 7pm at the Northport Arts Association Building. After a short presentation, the committee members will take questions and provide answers.

“Predictable annual funding of the library has been discussed for twenty years, but never acted on. We think it is long past time for the public to demonstrate support for this valuable community asset,” retired Township Library Director Deb Stannard shared in a press release.

According to FOLTL, the past two years have seen increased borrowing and visits to the building: The number of cardholders has grown to 3209, in a township with a population (as of 2020) of 2048. “It is well-known that residents and visitors alike sit outside to use the free wireless service even when the building is closed,” adds Silvia Gans, president of FOLTL and a co-chair of YES! Leelanau Library. She says, “The library provides a central location for reading, research, and informational programs for all ages. The building is 54 years old, built before users began requesting computer and internet access. The collections have also grown to meet increasing needs. Our recent and current directors energized the community with new initiatives and activities. These improvements have rekindled enthusiasm for the long-standing aspiration to put the library on a more solid footing.”

The millage info session is Thursday, September 22, at 7pm at the Northport Arts Association Building at 301 N. Mill Street, Northport.

Photo by Mark Morton

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