AADL Gets Input on Downtown Library

Also: Ann Arbor District Library only system in Michigan to get top Library Journal ranking; clean audit report presented

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Nov. 19, 2012): Though turnout didn’t match the attendance at a typical Ann Arbor city council meetings, several members of the public came to the AADL board meeting on Monday evening. It was the first board meeting since the Nov. 6 general election, when voters rejected a $65 million bond proposal that would have funded a new downtown library.

Ingrid Sheldon, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ingrid Sheldon, a member of the Our New Downtown Library campaign committee, reviews her notes before speaking during public commentary at the Nov. 19 meeting of the Ann Arbor District Library board. (Photos by the writer.)

Two people spoke during public commentary, directly addressing the issue of the downtown building at 343 S. Fifth Ave. Ingrid Sheldon – representing the Our New Downtown Library committee, which had campaigned in support of the bond proposal – told the board that committee members were disappointed but willing to continue supporting the library however they can. Other committee members in attendance included Betsy Jackson and Donald Harrison.

Also addressing the board was Lyn Davidge, who had run for a seat on the library board but had not been elected. During her campaign she had advocated for renovation of the downtown building, not new construction. She volunteered to serve on any citizen advisory group that she hoped the board would form soon, to give input on the building’s future. Davidge also urged the board to add a public commentary slot at the end of their monthly meetings – because she felt it would encourage more participation.

There was scant discussion among board members about the Nov. 6 outcome or next steps for dealing with the downtown building. In a brief report to the board, Prue Rosenthal – chair of the board’s special facilities committee – indicated that the committee members hadn’t yet made any decisions or had any substantive discussions about what to do next. There was no discussion about the possibility of forming an advisory committee.

In other action, the Nov. 19 meeting included an audit report by the accounting firm Rehmann for AADL’s 2011-2012 fiscal year, which ended June 30. The audit was clean, and included a recommendation to start conducting periodic inventories of “moveable capital assets” – items like furniture and fixtures.

During her director’s report, Josie Parker highlighted a financial concern that is outside of AADL’s control: The possible elimination of the state’s personal property tax. PPT legislation will likely be handled in the state legislature’s lame duck session. If the PPT is eliminated and no replacement revenue is provided, the library would lose about $630,000 annually in revenues, Parker said. The library’s annual budget is roughly $12 million.

Parker also related positive news. Again this year, AADL has been ranked with five stars by the Library Journal – the highest ranking awarded by the journal for library use in a community. AADL is the only library system in Michigan that achieved that level. In its category – libraries with budgets between $10 million to $29.99 million – AADL ranked fourth nationwide. 

Public Commentary

Two people spoke during public commentary at the start of the meeting.

Ingrid Sheldon told the board that she was representing Ellie Serras and the rest of the Our New Downtown Library committee, which had campaigned in support of the $65 million bond proposal – she noted that some of the other committee members were attending the AADL meeting too. The committee worked hard and was very disappointed that they weren’t able to convince the majority of voters to invest in a new library, she said. However, they were excited that so many people started talking about this core community asset. No one had negative things to say about the library – everyone loves it, Sheldon said. The Ann Arbor library system has a national reputation, Sheldon observed, but perhaps the community takes that for granted.

She reported on a recent visit she’d made to the Traverwood branch, and the activities she saw there. People were tutoring, working on computers, reading – “someone was even Skyping to China,” she said. The campaign committee had not been able to convey that this kind of demand for services exists at the downtown library too, she said. The downtown library is the “trunk from which the branches draw their nutrients.”

The infrastructure needs for the building haven’t gone away, Sheldon continued, and now the board has heard community input. She wanted the board to know that the committee is ready to help make the library become more than it already is. She thanked them for their vision of making the library an institution to enhance learning for all.

Lyn Davidge, who had run in the Nov. 6 general election for a seat on the library board but was not elected, began by saying “Sorry, ladies!” [The one male board member, Ed Surovell, was absent.] She said she was sure they thought they would be rid of her after the election, but she was back. She observed that her campaign to get people to attend AADL board meetings appeared to be working. She felt she needed to set an example by speaking during public commentary.

Even though she won’t have the opportunity to join the board, Davidge said, she thought her campaign message had resonated with a lot of voters and that she had something to contribute to the ongoing discussion. [Davidge had supported renovating the downtown building rather than constructing a new library.] She wanted to be one of the first people to volunteer to serve on one of the citizen advisory committees that she hoped the board would create soon. She noted that she and board member Nancy Kaplan – and possibly others – had advocated for such committees. As the board selects people to serve in an advisory role, she hoped they would include people from the business community, academia, and others with talent and experience who can provide new options for possible renovation. A lot of details about possible renovation were missing in the pre-election conversation, Davidge said, and she hoped the board and staff would seek advice from knowledgeable engineers, architects and others in the coming months.

Davidge also urged the board to seek more input from the library staff – not just the department heads, but the staff who run the day-to-day operations. She believed that these employees could provide important insights. Davidge concluded by requesting that the board add another opportunity for public commentary at the end of its meetings, so that people could give feedback about board decisions and discussions that had occurred during the meeting. If people could provide immediate feedback to the board, that might encourage more people to attend board meetings. “You never know until you try and I hope you’ll consider trying it.”

Facilities Committee Report

In her report as chair of the board’s special facilities committee, Prue Rosenthal noted that their work will continue to move forward, although she added that they were obviously disappointed in the outcome of the Nov. 6 election, when voters rejected the library’s bond proposal. The committee members are Rosenthal, Nancy Kaplan and Ed Surovell.

Board president Margaret Leary noted that the board had previously voted to amend its charge to the special facilities committee. That change – made at the board’s July 16, 2012 meeting – extended the committee’s work through 2012, and included the charge of recommending “measures needed to maintain the existing building should a bond to replace the downtown facility fail to pass.” The committee had originally been formed in April of 2012.

On Nov. 19, Rosenthal said the committee would be meeting with the “appropriate professionals” and library staff to figure out how best to use the available funding to ensure that the library works as well as it possibly can. The committee hasn’t made any decisions or had any substantive discussions about what to do next, she said.

Kaplan added that board appreciates the community’s input, including ideas and suggestions for how to move forward. The board is listening, she said. Leary echoed those sentiments.

Financial Report

Ken Nieman – AADL associate director of finance, HR and operations – gave a brief financial update to the board. [.pdf of finance report] He described October as a “pretty normal month, as most of them are here.” Through the end of October, the library has received 94.7% of its budgeted tax receipts – or $10.617 million. AADL’s fund balance stood at $7.937 million as of Oct. 31.

Five items were over budget, he said, but are expected to come back in line with budgeted amounts by the end of the fiscal year. Those line items are purchased services (related to an annual payment for Brainfuse, an online tutoring service), communications, software, supplies, and a line item for “other operating expenses.”

Board members had no questions for Nieman about the financial report.

Audit Report: It’s Clean

In reporting from the board’s budget and finance committee, Barbara Murphy said the committee had met earlier in the month with Dave Fisher of the accounting firm Rehmann to review AADL’s audit results. She described it as a very positive meeting.

Margaret Leary, Barbara Murphy, Rebecca Head Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: AADL board members Margaret Leary, Barbara Murphy, and Rebecca Head. Barely visible behind Head is Prue Rosenthal.

Sherry Brubaker, an audit and assurance manager at Rehmann, gave the board an overview of the results later in the Nov. 19 meeting.

The audit gives a clean opinion of AADL’s financial statements for the fiscal year 2011-12, Brubaker said – the same as in recent prior years. The audit also looked at AADL’s internal controls for systems like payroll and cash receipts.

AADL’s fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30. Total general fund revenues for the year were $11.94 million – about $300,000 less than the previous year. About 91% of revenues ($10.87 million) come from property taxes, Brubaker noted. Total general fund expenses for the year were $11.7 million, leaving a surplus of $236,793 for the year. Expenditures were under budget by about $373,000.

Out of the library’s $8.1 million in combined fund balances, $7.55 million is unassigned and available for spending at the library’s discretion. That amount equates to about 65% of general fund expenditures – representing several months of operating expenses.

The library has about $4.5 million in investments, Brubaker noted. Its cash is invested primarily in short-term certificates of deposit. AADL has no debt. Net assets total $30.96 million.

Brubaker said that during the audit, it was noted that a physical inventory of movable capital assets hadn’t been completed. The firm recommends that such an inventory be conducted every three or four years, she said. That recommendation was discussed with the finance committee, and Brubaker believed that the recommendation would be implemented.

Board president Margaret Leary asked for examples of moveable capital assets. Brubaker replied that it includes assets like furniture and fixtures – items that cost more than $1,000 with an expected life greater than two years.

Outcome: Without further discussion, the board unanimously voted to accept the 2011-12 audit.

Rehmann provided only print copies of its audit to AADL, which in turn provided print and scanned versions to The Chronicle. [.pdf of scanned audit] The Chronicle converted the document to a searchable text version using optical character recognition (OCR), though the process left the text with several scanos. [.pdf of OCR audit]

Director’s Report

AADL director Josie Parker reported that personal property tax (PPT) legislation is headed to the House Tax Policy Committee later this month and will likely be handled in the state legislature’s lame duck session. The Michigan Library Association will continue to lobby for a revenue replacement, she said.

If the PPT is eliminated, the library would lose about $630,000 annually in revenues, Parker said. Proposals to find replacement revenues currently would provide only a fraction of that amount, she added. [For more background on this issue, see Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Library Board Briefed on Tax Issue."]

Parker also reported that the library recently had received a $40,000 donation from the Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library, a nonprofit that runs the bookstore in the downtown library’s lower level. Parker read aloud a letter from FAADL treasurer Mary Borkowski, praising the library for its work.

In the final item of her report, Parker announced that AADL had again been ranked with five stars by the Library Journal – for the fifth year. It’s the highest ranking awarded, and AADL is the only library system in Michigan that achieved that level. In its category – libraries with budgets between $10 million to $29.99 million – AADL ranked fourth nationwide.

Parker also congratulated other Michigan libraries that were ranked: Kent District Library in Comstock Park, Bloomfield Township Public Library, and Plymouth District Library. Those libraries received three-star rankings.

These rankings aren’t about how much money is spent or how many people the library employs, Parker said – it’s about how well the libraries are utilized in the community. Per-capita metrics include circulation, visits, program attendance, and public Internet terminal use.

Parker told the board that the public wouldn’t use the library as much as they do unless there were mechanisms in place to facilitate it. She pointed to a combination of facilities and their design, hours of operation, and the opportunity for the public to give feedback in a variety of ways about the kinds of services and programs they want, such as self-checkout, online renewal, and no limits on the amount of items that can be checked out. Unlike many libraries, Parker said, AADL’s philosophy is that it’s a sign of success when a lot of the collection is being used. The goal is to make the library as easy to use as possible, and there are policies to encourage that.

For the 220 people who work at AADL, these policies and procedures are normal and often goes unremarked, Parker said. But in fact it is remarkable, and she wanted to thank all of the employees for everything they did.

Her remarks were followed by applause from the board and others attending the meeting. Board president Margaret Leary noted that Parker’s motto is “Be generous,” and that’s exemplified by AADL’s policies, Leary said. Users of the library can affect those policies in very direct ways by telling the library staff what they want, she said.

“And they do tell you in Ann Arbor,” Parker quipped.

Present: Rebecca Head, Nancy Kaplan, Margaret Leary, Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman, Prue Rosenthal. Also AADL director Josie Parker.

Absent: Ed Surovell.

Next meeting: Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown library, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [Check Chronicle event listing to confirm date]

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  1. By Scratchingmyhead
    November 24, 2012 at 8:19 pm | permalink

    I think it’s wonderful that AADL has received a 5 star rating by the Library Journal and while I think this is useful information, I hope that Parker and the board does not try to manipulate this rating to renew a millage movement. The AADL provides a wonderful service to this community but there is absolutely no reason why the voters of Ann Arbor should be cajoled into approving a new facility based on such scanty reasoning provided by the Board. There is absolutely no need for a 400 plus seating auditorium for meetings, a cafe or the stretch of the imagination rationale that a new facility would contribute to the economic development of the downtown area. Instead, in addition to the cost per taxpayer for a millage for new facility, those of us who do not live downtown would have to pay for parking every time we attend an event at the downtown location or otherwise risk being towed at an astronomical rate. I guess if this is what is meant by economic development then by all means for those who support the double cost to citizens I say vote for it but please do not include me as one of the supporters. That’s why I have chosen to visit Traverwood, Mallett Creek or the Western Branch.

  2. By Observatory
    November 24, 2012 at 11:44 pm | permalink

    Josie Parker, God Love You!

    STOP RUNNING with the damned DDA and Conference Center crooks.

    Rededicate yourself to the people’s library … you needn’t be the tool of the moneyed interests, real estate promoters, or tainted politicians and their appointees.

    Voters have spoken: It’s OUR library and we do NOT want a $65 million shrine to a board, nor do we want to construct a ‘whisper whisper’ 400 seat conference center auditorium or play economic development anchor. It’s not in your charter.

    Kick them out Josie! Those who have seduced you down this dark alley do not have your back or ours … look at the AATA and city hall. They are not dedicated to their constituents. Do you wish to preside over such stench? Resolve to clean out the stable. Take action today. First things first. Send the DDA packing. Today.

    Show us your backbone and a silent majority will rise up in your support. Invent the library of the future, not just one near the top of the existing bracketing, but one that breaks out above the top bar and sets a new standard of leadership defining what a library will be.

    Or ultimately when the tide goes out, (do you not sense it turning as we speak?) you will be swept out with the refuse. In your retirement do you want to reminisce about when you lost focus and sold out? NO!

    It’s not too late for you. Yet.

  3. November 25, 2012 at 11:06 am | permalink

    Regarding the loss of the PPT: Was there any discussion of raising the millage to the full amount authorized, and how much that would offset the loss of the PPT? We love our library and I’m sure most of us would not object to the AADL levying the amount the voters put into place years ago.

    I’ll just note that the AADL, like other local governments, is not sharing in the increased tax base downtown. All that new building is mostly enriching the DDA.

  4. By Mary Morgan
    November 25, 2012 at 11:29 am | permalink

    Re. “Was there any discussion of raising the millage to the full amount authorized, and how much that would offset the loss of the PPT?”

    No, there was no discussion about raising the AADL millage. For those who’d like more background, the AADL currently levies 1.55 mills but is authorized to levy up to 1.92 mills. [The amount originally authorized by voters was actually 2.0 mills. That maximum amount has been reduced over the years because of the state's Headlee Amendment, which rolls back millage rates to prevent property tax revenues from increasing faster than the rate of inflation.]

    When the AADL’s current fiscal year budget was approved earlier this year (for the period from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013), library officials noted that if AADL levied the full 1.92-mill rate, the library would see an additional $1.6 million in annual property tax revenues. That $1.6 million includes revenues from the personal property tax, however. The lower rate has been in place since fiscal 2009-10.

  5. By Tom Whitaker
    November 25, 2012 at 12:05 pm | permalink

    I’d like to see the library hire one of the several local architectural firms that specialize in the rehabilitation of older buildings and develop a 5 or 10-year building improvement program for the downtown library. This could include a combination of necessary, but invisible infrastructure improvements (such as the new chiller purchased very recently), as well as phased remodeling projects that could be completed without a total shut-down of the building.

    There are many of us who would not object to the library collecting the full amount of the millage that is already in place to fund these improvements. That $1.6 million, especially if combined with an end to the diversion of tax revenues from the library to the DDA and LDFA, would give the library a substantial annual cash flow to spend as needed.

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; like it or not, the downtown library serves this City as a defacto, unfunded, daytime warming shelter for the homeless. This has been very convenient for the Mayor and Council for years, as they’ve chosen to fund train stations, new underground parking, a city hall addition, SPARK, and Percent for Art, instead of more shelter space and warming centers. The least they could do in return is to lead an effort to fully fund the library.

  6. By sheila rice
    November 25, 2012 at 9:15 pm | permalink

    To add to what Tom said, i would argue that Ann Arbor might even approve a 1/4 mil sinking fund for ten years for the improvement of infrastructure and technology for the library system. What we are reluctant to support is a proposal that denies the use of a downtown library for 2-3 years in addition to the cost of demolition of the old library and rebuild of a new building that cannot recover the costs no matter how energy efficient the new structure might claim to be.

  7. By Walter Cramer
    November 26, 2012 at 6:33 am | permalink

    The Chronicle’s coverage of the July 16th AADL Board meeting was the basis for my “no” vote, and likewise for as many friends as I could convince.

    However well-intentioned, Ed Surovell’s campaign for a downtown architectural monument, with ~$14 million in extra interest expenses (from a financing decision that Mr. Surovell also championed) was rightly rejected.

    I don’t think that a better-informed electorate would have supported the bond proposal. The AADL Board needs to pay attention to actual voter priorities, and change their plans and tone to fit those.

  8. By Alan Goldsmith
    November 26, 2012 at 9:19 am | permalink

    “That $1.6 million, especially if combined with an end to the diversion of tax revenues from the library to the DDA and LDFA, would give the library a substantial annual cash flow to spend as needed.”

    This is an issue worth revisiting. Just how much DOES the DDA skim off the top from dollars that would have gone to the Library?

  9. November 26, 2012 at 10:07 am | permalink

    Re: ” … diversion of tax revenues from the library to the DDA and LDFA, would give the library a substantial annual cash flow to spend as needed.”

    The taxes captured by the LDFA don’t come for the AADL’s tax levy but rather from school taxes, which are sent to the state for re-allocation across all school districts in the state, under Michigan’s system for funding local school districts. Part of the argument for this approach to funding the LDFA is that it has a de minimis impact on funding per student, once all the students in the state are put in the denominator. For Ann Arbor’s LDFA, the amount per student came to under a dollor back in 2002 when Ann Arbor’s LDFA was established [That doesn't figure in the impact of other LDFAs in the state of Michigan.] The LDFA was established only for a period of 15 years, so it will run through 2017. The choice of “only” is based on the contrast to the 30-year period for the DDA, which ends in 2033.

    The DDA’s tax capture does apply to the AADL’s tax levy. Ignoring the conflicting views on the part of the AADL and the DDA about how the tax capture should be calculated, here’s one way to ballpark the annual amount of AADL tax captured by the Ann Arbor DDA. The DDA’s 2013 budget calls for a total of about $3.9 million in tax capture. That’s based on a total of about 27.8 mills of taxes for all jurisdictions in the DDA’s district. The library levies 1.55 mills. (1.55/27.8)*3900000 is about $218,000 annually.

  10. By Tom Whitaker
    November 26, 2012 at 1:35 pm | permalink

    Thanks for the data, Dave. I guess I’ll save my griping about the LDFA and SPARK for another day, but I did look up the initial LDFA TIF plan. It estimates 700 jobs will be created over 15 years (2003-2018) with a total hit to the State School Aide Fund of $24,000,000.

    Several DDA board members strongly supported the library bond, with the DDA chair actually calling the building a “disgrace.” Other bond advocates spoke of the positive impact of the library on the downtown economy. The DDA has given several downtown businesses and developers grants and tax abatements citing economic development, jobs, and attraction of visitors/residents. For the same reasons, I suggest the DDA also consider voting to allow the library to keep all the annual tax revenue it would normally be entitled to.

    Helping the library stay open and fund incremental improvements instead of closing for 2-3 years for total reconstruction (or to simply deteriorate) would allow the library to keep attracting its thousands of downtown visitors per month. These visitors also patronize downtown businesses and feed parking meters. Permanent library jobs would also be retained.

  11. By Eric
    November 26, 2012 at 4:15 pm | permalink

    On the second floor of the downtown library a few hundred square feet are devoted to a Maps and Atlases area. There are some nice things there, probably was a useful feature 10 years ago. Now Google Maps does it much better easier faster. Like most of the library it is either redundant or rapidly becoming so. Once in a while someone is in the area but they are talking on a cell phone or playing computer games. Instead of helping the library stay open why not face up to the fact that it is no longer needed? Shut it down and let the taxpayers keep their money.

  12. By DrData
    November 26, 2012 at 6:12 pm | permalink


    Have you been to the new Steven Clark Library on the UM Campus?


    They have a huge collection of old atlases and maps – not all digital.

    And, while I have easy access to that venue, I wouldn’t say that everyone who lives in Ann Arbor would find it easy to find parking and walk to the Graduate Library and explore the collection.

    So, we do need a central library. Let’s hope the library folks figure out how to modify their space to accommodate a library of the future.

  13. November 26, 2012 at 7:28 pm | permalink

    Eric is a confirmed nonbeliever (in libraries). Actually, maps and atlases often contain much complex information that Google doesn’t come near. I’ve enjoyed looking at atlases that display demographic information, mean annual temperatures, soil types and many other types of information.

    Possibly many of these datasources now exist online, but it requires searching. With a good atlas, you can just flip the pages.

    I’m a lover of archival research. Sometimes you discover things you didn’t know you were looking for.

  14. By Alan Goldsmith
    November 27, 2012 at 6:42 am | permalink

    Thanks for the tax estimate Dave. Much appreciated.