Leelanau News and Events

What’s Next For The Leelanau Township Library?

By Craig Manning | Feb. 6, 2023

What happens when a library goes independent? Leelanau Township residents are going to learn the answer in 2023.

Last year, a local advocacy group called YES! Leelanau Library lobbied successfully for a ballot measure that established both an independent governance model for the Leelanau Township Library and a dedicated millage to fund library operations. Now, a little over a month into 2023, the Leelanau Township Library officially has its own board and is in the process of plotting its roadmap for the months and years to come. The Leelanau Ticker chatted with Mark Morton, the recently-elected president of the board of trustees for the Leelanau Township Library, to find out what locals can expect to see happen at the library now that it is officially an independent operation.

How did we get here? Throughout 2022, the YES! Leelanau Library group – itself an offshoot of the Friends of the Leelanau Township Library (FOLTL) nonprofit – campaigned to split the library off from its township governance structure. At the time, the library was one of just three township libraries in the state of Michigan still governed by a local township board. Advocates for an independent structure argued that it would open doors for big growth while also enabling the library to serve the community in a more focused, specialized way. Last spring, the YES! group gathered enough signatures to put the matter on the ballot, and in November, Leelanau Township voters passed the measure 1,058 votes to 492.

According to Morton, many of the people who were active in the YES! Leelanau Library movement have now become members of the first-ever board of trustees for the Leelanau Township Library. That list includes Morton, who is also the director of the nearby Leland Township Public Library, Rick Gans, Amanda Kruk, Dale Lersh, Mary Robertson, and Jamie Scripps. Robertson, who worked previously for Suttons Bay-Bingham District Library, is the board’s vice president; Gans, a local consulting professional, will serve as treasurer; and Kruk, director of the Village Voices of Northport ensemble, will act as treasurer.

“We're just getting started,” Morton tells the Leelanau Ticker. “We had our first official meeting [on Monday, January 23], and we adopted bylaws, made the board official, and elected officers. The next step is an intergovernmental agreement between the township and the library. That agreement basically says who is responsible for what. The township, it's their building, so they're responsible for the exterior maintenance, mowing the grass, things like that. And then the library will have to get insurance on the contents of the library – the books, the printers, the computers, and all those things – because those will become property of the library. The intergovernmental agreement describes all those responsibilities.”

Once that agreement is in place, Morton says the library board will be able to start planning more seriously about how to allocate its budget and where to pursue capital improvements and other future projects. It’s on that front, Morton adds, that locals can expect to start seeing the first big dividends of the Leelanau Township Library's new structure.

“One of the biggest benefits [of going independent] is the dedicated millage for the library,” Morton explains. “With this structure, the library director does not have to go to the township every year as part of their budget process. With the millage, determining how much money the library is going to have to operate for the fiscal year is way easier, and that makes planning easier, too. You pretty much know how much money you’re going to get every year, and you’re not affected by other things that may be going on in the township. In the last few years in Leelanau Township, there’s been the corrosion at Christmas Cove, and they’re dealing with some subsiding of the foundation at the Woolsey Airport. Things like that can affect how much money the library would get every year.”

Because of Headlee rollbacks, the millage amount for the library will still fluctuate slightly over the years. This year, though, since the library is “starting off with the whole 0.5 mills,” Morton says that “there’s actually more money [in the budget] than what we had anticipated. I believe last year, the township budgeted somewhere around $200,000 for the library; this year, we're going to be operating with closer to $240,000.”

What does all that surplus funding mean for the library? Morton says the first priority for the board will likely be putting a contingency fund in place, which would set aside “about 50 percent of annual operating costs” to be used in the case of an emergency. Beyond that, though, Morton expects that establishing a building fund is going to be the new board’s first major stab at capital improvement planning. “The library is awfully small, and it needs to be expanded,” he says. “We will have to work with the township on that, because their offices are at the same building. So it will probably take a few years, but that is definitely a future goal, is to expand the library.”

Another priority? Strategizing an expansion and overall shift in library hours, to better meet the needs of the community. “The library is currently closed on Mondays, and then on Wednesday, they’re only open from 3-8pm,” Morton notes. “We want to adjust that to open earlier on Wednesday and maybe not stay open quite so late, because they don't get a lot of people coming in later. Our thought is that, since the community is providing more to the library, the library wants to make sure that we provide more service to the community.”

When asked what the Leelanau Township Library might look like 5-6 years down the road, Morton points to the library that he himself leads. In 2016, the Leland Township Public Library went through the same process of transitioning from township governance to independent entity. Now, the Leland library is nearly ready to kick off its own expansion and renovation project, something Morton isn’t sure would have happened without a board “of library lovers that are only concerned about library operations.”

“So we have architectural drawings and we're just trying to get an accurate price estimate,” Morton says of the Leland library expansion project. “We expect to start a quiet capital campaign yet this winter, and then hopefully next summer do a regular capital campaign.”

Pictured: The new Leelanau Township Library team, including (from left) Mary Robertson, library director Julie Alpers-Preneta, Amanda Kruk, Mark Morton, Rick Gans, Jamie Scripps, and Dale Lersch.

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