Local librarians concerned with the Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners’ decision to look at possibly diverting moneys from libraries to law enforcement and road commission funds are taking action.
According to Boyne District Library Director Cliff Carey, he and several other library officials from around Charlevoix County will be attending an upcoming meeting where the issue is scheduled to be discussed further.
“No one ever wants to have anybody dip into their budget,” Carey said.
On May 22, the Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners discussed the feasibility of taking certain penal fines away from local libraries and diverting them to roads and police purposes. The board decided to pass the matter on to the Charlevoix County Building and Grounds Committee for further investigation.
Charlevoix County Commissioner George T. Lasater (R-District 1) had expressed concern that fees from overweight trucks were going to libraries instead of to the road commission and the sheriff’s office.
The Charlevoix County Building and Grounds Committee will next meet at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday June 12, following the Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners’ regularly scheduled meeting.
“We’re going to discuss this with the commission,” Carey said. “Initially, my biggest concern is that it would have been nice if they would have reached out to us to say what’s going on.”
He added, “I want to hear what the commission has to say.”
On average, libraries tend to get six to seven-and-a-half percent of their funding from penal fines, some of which comes from the fines on overloaded transport vehicles.
According to Michigan Public Act 59 of 1964—Distribution of Penal Fines to Public Libraries—the proceeds of all fines for any breach of the penal laws of Michigan collected in each county are to be paid, by the county treasurer, by Aug. 1.
“This was created as Public Act 59 back in the day—it’s not like somebody did it frivolously,” Carey said.
During the May 22 meeting, Lasater discussed the fact that it is the road commission and sheriff’s office that enforces the weight limits and, therefore, they should be the entities to receive the proceeds of such fines.
According to the 2012 Michigan Public Libraries Data Digest, nearly 6.05 percent of nearly $413 million in library funding statewide came from penal fines.
For example, Charlevoix Public Library expected to receive $40,848 of their $1,011,721 operating revenues for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
The Boyne District Library, in 2010, received $40,920 which was 7.37 percent of its $531,584 in general revenues.
The Jordan Valley District Library, in 2012, received $29,691.91 in penal fines for a total revenues of $404,274.
Carey said last year the Boyne Library received nearly $36,000 in funding from penal fines.
“Personal property taxes are going to be phased out of our taxes starting in 2014—that’s maybe eight percent of our budget—and now they’re looking at penal fines,” he said. “I did our expenses in hours that we’re open and it costs us $160 an hour to operate. If they take $36,000 a year away, that’s about four hours per week that we would have to take away from our schedule.”
According to Carey, the library provides so many services to the local community that it cannot afford to make budget cuts.
“Libraries used to be little more than book depositories but now they are community resource centers,” he said. “Last year we had 550 groups use our meeting rooms; Michigan Works! Is closed on the weekends but we have a Michigan Works! Kiosk that is available seven days a week; many places require you to apply for work online but if you are applying for a dish washing job, then you probably do not have internet, so we’re here for that too.”
Carey said the library also offers children’s reading programs, business classes, reference libraries, databases that cannot be accessed by just anyone using Google, printers, tax forms and much more.
“People who don’t use the library don’t realize how we have evolved over the years—it’s different but a better place,” he said. “We like to say that we are the great equalizer: we don’t care what kind of car you drive, what your level of education is or how much money you have … the doors are open.”