Park Township rejects library offer, ends negotiations
PARK TWP. — The entirety of Park Township will soon be considered outside the service area of the Three Rivers Public Library.
At a special meeting of the Park Township Board Wednesday, the township unanimously rejected the latest library services contract offer from TRPL, and by a separate 3-2 vote ended contract negotiations between them and the library, with intentions to revisit the contract in 2022. Trustee Tom Springer and Treasurer Cindy Fenwick dissented in the 3-2 vote.
The move will mean that Three Rivers Public Library cards currently held by Park Township residents will expire at the end of April, with residents having to pay $50 for a card for up to two individuals in one household, or $75 for families of three or more in one household. The township is expected to pay the library the contribution they owe under the previous 2005 contract for the first four months of 2021.
Township officials cited their current budget situation, their agreements with the Mendon Township Library and Vicksburg District Library, as well as other items of note they could use the money on as their reasons for the rejection.
TRPL’s offer would have had the township pay contributions on a sliding scale over the next three years. The township would pay flat fees of $15,000, $17,000, and $19,000 plus penal fines over the first three years, and if extended for a fourth year and beyond, subject to negotiation, the township would pay $21,000 minus penal fines collected. The contract framework was approved by the TRPL Board of Trustees on March 23.
According to a spreadsheet done by Trustee Mike Kinne to illustrate differences between the townships’ contributions to thelibrary, Lockport currently pays $17,332 in total contributions to the library plus penal fines, while Fabius pays $54,433 per year. Under the old contract, Park Township paid $14,395, which TRPL claims is not enough, based on differing interpretations of vague language in the 2005 contract. In terms of TRPL card holders, Park Township has just less than half the number (685) that Fabius (1,303) and Lockport (1,328) do. Out of the 685 cardholders, according to the spreadsheet, 167 are in the TRCS district.
Township Supervisor Ed English said the library has still been insistent on meeting the 3/10 mil state taxable value requirement for state aid funding for the whole township, which the library estimated would be approximately $21,000, the fourth-year flat total in the contract before subtracting penal fines.
“We’re about half of what they are, but yet we’re going to pay more than they are,” English said. “Again, we’re going back to this 3/10, that’s how they want to do it, and that’s fine. I can’t make them not do it, that’s how they choose to do it, then that’s what we’re going to have to play by. Do I agree with it? No, I don’t agree with it, and I haven’t from day one. I don’t think that’s the way they should be collecting it.”
English noted that neither Fabius, Lockport nor Park Townships have a dedicated library millage, meaning the money given to TRPL yearly comes out of the townships’ general funds, which have no specific earmarks. He also noted the City of Three Rivers does have a library millage, currently at 1.68 mils.
Springer said the situation is “frustrating,” since he feels the two parties are “close” in negotiations. He noted that in the fourth year, if penal fines hold at the current figures, they would pay $18,322, while by contrast, they would have paid approximately $17,678 per year in the township’s proposed contract: $15,000 plus the estimated $2,678 in penal fines – a number based on last year’s figures.
“The difference we have is this is stepped up, and it might’ve been easier for us to agree on a dollar figure that we would pay for the whole three years of the contract,” Springer said. “If you look at what you want to do at the end, what we’re offering, that’s where I see us differing. The library has to do what it has to do, but to forego $17,678 for a potential difference of $644 a year, I think that’s frustrating for both parties.”
Fenwick said she hoped the township could support the other two libraries, and mentioned that when the original contract was approved 16 years ago, the township didn’t have a fire department they were putting “a lot of money into,” and said the budget “isn’t as healthy as it used to be.”
TRPL Interim Director Bobbi Schoon made her case to the board, saying the library board went to a flat amount in the contract because of the township’s hesitance on the 3/10 mil issue, while also trying to meet Library of Michigan requirements. She also brought up the cardholder situation, saying some families don’t want multiple cards for their household, leading to potentially lower official numbers.
“I went through the addresses and counted, 435 of those cards, there’s only one card at that address,” Schoon said. “Seventy-two percent of your township, according to a survey done in 2019, is families. Odds are that at least 300 of those cards serve a family. … To say that it’s one cardholder for one person isn’t how we’ve done business, and we could do that if you prefer and want to know exactly, but we haven’t had to before.”
Kinne said after looking at the situation in different ways, he “didn’t see another good way that made sense” to fund the library, and that the 3/10 mil is “not a good way to look at it either.” He said township residents have other options when it comes to libraries if they decline the contract with TRPL.
“The issue is we have other options. Mendon’s right over there, and they’re close to most of the township,” Kinne said. “It’s a library that we’re paying for, and it’s available. They can get the same book that you can get, they have the same computers you have, they have a lot of the same programming.”
Kinne listed off other things the township could do with the $21,000, including fixing up roads in the township.
“If we took that $21,000 and matched it with the county, we could fix quite a few roads for $40,000 a year,” Kinne said. “If we double that $7,000 increase with the county, what they offer with the 50/50 match, we could do a subdivision. We could pave somebody’s road where they live that we couldn’t do this year because we didn’t have the funds.
“I see both sides, but it really boils down to, we have three libraries that we’ve been supporting. If we don’t support you, we still have two,” Kinne continued. “Our people may be inconvenienced a little bit to go to those libraries, and I feel bad about it, but in the end they still have a library to go to.”
Prior to the vote to reject the contract, Schoon said while the other libraries offer the same things, TRPL offers more of those things than Mendon or Vicksburg. She also added the sliding scale wasn’t necessarily a “deal breaker,” and that they could still negotiate.
Following the vote, Springer argued the board shouldn’t walk away from the negotiating table just yet.
“I just think it doesn’t look good for either party to walk away because we can’t make this happen when we’re so close, it just looks like we’re being inefficient and digging in our heels,” Springer said. “This is really close, and there’s not a lot of difference.”
Some other suggestions for the contract were brought up, such as a single one-year contract or putting a library millage on a ballot, but each were dismissed by the board. The millage idea was dismissed primarily because of the township going for a 1/2 mil for four years road millage on the August ballot, and that residents “wouldn’t want” a library millage in general.
Kinne, ultimately, said the township needed to end discussions.
“We can look at it again in a year, but let’s see what happens after this year,” Kinne said. “Their end goal is to get this to $21,000, and I totally understand what they want to do and I see the reasoning to why they want to do it, but I don’t see any benefit for Park Township. If we spend that money, what do we get for that money? I don’t see that we’re getting any more or less for that money. From my stance, I think we’re better to say, we can’t agree, and I’d be willing to look at it next year and see if things have changed, if people’s attitudes have changed, and try to work something out. I think it’s better to walk away on good terms and say, ‘We tried.’”
Kinne dismissed the idea of reimbursement vouchers for those in Park Township that want to still have cards for the library, saying to “please utilize Mendon or Vicksburg.”
“It’s a whole slippery slope on getting into vouchers, and I don’t want to go there because of the money situation. It’s a lot more work for the library and a lot more work for us,” Kinne said. “For our residents, I would just say, please utilize Mendon or Vicksburg. It’s free.”
Following the vote, Schoon shared one final emotional plea to the board.
“We’ll be going in to all the other elementary schools, but without your financial support, we can’t go to Park,” Schoon said, referencing the library’s future plans to offer TRCS teachers library cards for their classrooms in addition to resuming other school outreach programs. “Please ask one of the other libraries to support those babies.”
English did open the door a bit for the library to come back with another offer, but for right now, negotiations are done.
“Unless the Three Rivers Library Board wants to come back with an offer that we can all live with, then we’d be more than happy to revisit it,” English said. “As far as I’m concerned, we had pretty good offers to you; if your board wants to reconsider those, we’d be happy to talk.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t get something done, I really am,” English continued. “We all want to support the library, but $21,000 is a little too much.”
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or email@example.com.