Library Plans to Lower Millage

AADL board: Economy a factor in "very conservative" budget
Jan Barney Newman and Prue Rosenthal

Library board members Jan Barney Newman and Prue Rosenthal confer before Monday's board meeting at the Malletts Creek branch.

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (April 27, 2009): The proposed 2009-10 budget for the Ann Arbor District Library would lower the tax rate that the library levies – a decision that’s in response to the stressed economy, board members said during their monthly meeting on Monday. The board will vote on the budget at its May 18 meeting.

The budget proposes levying 1.55 mills for the fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2009. Currently, the library levies 1.92 mills. (One mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s state equalized value, or SEV.) The library projects its fund balance will be $6.6 million at the end of this fiscal year (June 30, 2009) and that it will remain at that level next year – at about 52% of AADL’s $12.7 million operating budget.

Prue Rosenthal, the board’s treasurer, characterized the budget as “very conservative,” citing the economy and a concern for keeping taxes as low as possible while maintaining the library’s services. That means the library won’t be putting money into its capital building fund or fund balance, she said, “but we all believe that is the appropriate and right thing to do.”

In presenting the budget in more detail later in the meeting, Ken Nieman, AADL’s associate director, said the tax base is essentially flat, which is good news, considering the economy. [Other tax-funded entities, including Washtenaw County and the city of Ann Arbor, are struggling to balance their budgets for the coming year.]

The library has also needed to plan for a potential loss of $240,000 from taxes that Pfizer pays – the pharmaceutical is appealing the value that the city has placed on its research campus, and Nieman said he expects Pfizer will win its appeal.

On the expense side, Nieman said they’re proposing an average wage increase of 2% for full-time employees with benefits – in recent years, it’s been 3%. The budget also allows for a nearly 10% increase in health insurance costs.

Nieman cautioned that although they’ve dropped the millage rate this year, next year the tax base is expected to fall 4% to 6%, which means they’ll likely need to consider bumping the millage back up from 1.55 mills, if they want to maintain services. The original millage approved by voters was 2.0 mills.  That amount has gradually been rolled back to 1.92 mills this year due to the Headlee Amendment, which was passed to offset property assessment increases.

Trustee Carola Stearns asked where the money would come from if the downtown facility needed major repairs. (Until late last year, the board had been preparing to construct a new downtown branch, but tabled that plan in light of economic conditions.) AADL director Josie Parker said if they needed to fund major repairs, they’d be able to use money from the fund balance. That move would require board approval, she said.

Rosenthal, as chair of the budget & finance committee, pointed out that Parker and Nieman had originally proposed dropping the millage rate even lower, to 1.525 mills. Rosenthal said she had initially argued for levying the full 1.92 mills – the voter-approved maximum – but was persuaded that the library could remain an “amazing resource” even at the lower rate.

After the meeting, Parker told The Chronicle that in past years AADL had levied the 1.92 mills to build its fund balance, which has been used to build new branches without incurring debt. Those new branches include the Malletts Creek branch, where the board held its Monday meeting. Under current conditions, and with no capital projects in the works, there’s no need to continue adding to the fund balance at this time, she said.

Other Board Business: Evaluation, Updates, Awards

In addition to the budget, the board covered several other agenda items during its 45-minute meeting.

Director’s Evaluation: Board chair Rebecca Head said that the board had discussed Parker’s annual evaluation in a closed session and would be sharing that information with Parker during another closed session in May. They will then present some of their conclusions during the board’s public meeting on May 18.

Friends of the AADL: Trustee Margaret Leary said that she, Jan Barney Newman and Prue Rosenthal had met with three board members of the nonprofit Friends of the AADL to develop a new agreement between the Friends and the library. She said she hoped to share that agreement at the May board meeting.

Director’s Report: Parker reported that she’d held a staff meeting in the morning, attended by more than 120 employees, to talk about the proposed budget. She said there were a lot of questions and engagement, and she felt it had been a good meeting. [The library employs about 250 people, including about 100 who are full-time workers with benefits.]

She reported the library had received several awards, including one from the University of Michigan’s Ginsberg Center, recognizing the work AADL had done partnering with Michigan Community Scholars and Michigan Television. The project – the University-Community Social Justice Film and Discussion Series – received the Rosalie Ginsberg Award for Community Service & Social Action’s Outstanding University Program Award, for excellence in combining social action and learning. The library was also recognized by the Ann Arbor Public Schools Partners for Excellence Program for 10 years of continuous partnership with the schools.

Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled: Celeste Choate, associate director of services, collections and access, updated the board on the Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled, which opened at the AADL in February. AADL staff completed a database conversion from the system that the LBPD used when it was operated by Washtenaw County. They called patrons listed in the database and discovered that some had died or moved – they’ve now updated the listing. They’ve also taken detailed inventory of the 20,000 items transferred over from the county, she said. Regarding outreach, she said that AADL staff visited all libraries in the county to let them know about available services. They’ve also sent letters to school principals, making them aware of services for their students with special needs. Choate reported that the library has ordered a braille embosser that translates text into braille copy. When that arrives, patrons will be able to bring in items – anything from a personal letter to the library’s annual report – and get a copy of the item in braille.

Board member Carola Stearns asked if they had software that would add closed captioning to films. Choate said that they didn’t, but that she’d look into that.

Resolutions: The board approved two resolutions: 1) revising AADL’s family medical leave policy to conform with federal law, and 2) granting an easement to the city of Ann Arbor for sidewalks along the Traverwood branch on Huron Parkway. Regarding this latter resolution, Parker said it was part of the site plan agreement with the city, which the board had previously approved. The paperwork had been on “someone’s To Do list” at the city, she said, and was just now being formalized. The easement would allow the city to do underground work, if necessary, that might require temporarily removing the sidewalks.

Present: Rebecca Head, Margaret Leary, Jan Barney Newman, Josie Parker, Prue Rosenthal, Carola Stearns, Ed Surovell.

Absent: Barbara Murphy.

Next meeting: Monday, May 18, 2009 at 7 p.m. in the library’s fourth floor meeting room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]


  1. April 28, 2009 at 5:25 pm | permalink

    As an emeritus Library Board member, I strongly support the lowering of the tax millage. This is an excellent decision, since the Library has completed its program of building new branches.

  2. By johnboy
    April 29, 2009 at 6:43 am | permalink

    What!?!?! A governmental organization LOWERING taxes because there is a recession and the people might have a hard time paying their taxes? In my 60+ years I have never heard of this! Must not be any Democrats on the Library Board

  3. April 29, 2009 at 8:49 am | permalink

    Heh. Actually, when I retired from the Board this past June, we were all Democrats. 8-)

  4. By Jim Blake
    May 17, 2009 at 10:51 am | permalink

    This is a fine gesture by the Library. It won’t mean much to tax payer’s bottom line but it feels good.

    Was it just back at the turn of the decade when they needed voter approval to raise the millage to cover a large loss to embezzlement?

    Then they kept it high to fund their building campaign.