Library seeking reduction in millage, ensures no reduction in resources, programming

$1,300 — that’s how much the average Kent District Library (KDL) patron saves per year by having a library membership. With their latest proposal to decrease the upcoming millage, KDL is hoping to save residents even more money. 

On Nov. 7, residents within the KDL service area will vote on a reduced operating millage. KDL is proposing a 10.9% operating millage reduction across its network of 20 branches in 27 municipalities. A portion of residents’ property taxes support KDL’s mission to enrich lives by providing information, ideas and excitement. 

The proposed KDL operating millage of 1.1 mills is estimated to save residents $3.1 million annually, saving them $46.5 million over the 15-year span of the millage, which expires in 2041. The previously voted millage of 1.28 mills was approved in 2014 by voters, and expires next year. Over time, that rate was rolled back and amended to the current rate of 1.2355 mills. 

With a 3:1 payback for taxpayers, and $85.2 million total value of items checked out, patrons have access to 700,000 physical items, 15.6 million digital items and 5,600 educational and outreach programs and events. The average homeowner within the KDL service area will pay $2.80 per week or $145.75 a year to access library services. 

If residents vote yes on the reduced operating millage, the existing millage will be renewed at a rate reduced by 10.9%. If residents vote no, the existing millage will expire. Without millage funding, KDL will be forced to close its doors. 
Photo by Tyler Herbstreith
With a growing circulation rate, a five-star designated Library asking for a reduced millage is a rare, unprecedented move, according to KDL Executive Director Lance Werner. He says the primary motivation for seeking a reduced amount is due to inflation and increased costs of living across the board. 

“We think of this as an inflation-buster millage,” Werner says. “We really recognize that residents of Kent County are in a situation where they’re trying to do more with less. We feel that good government is not asking for money that you don’t need, and trying to do more with less.”

Due to a thriving community and new taxable real estate producing more revenue, KDL is able to take a step at reducing the millage, creating a tax reduction for property owners. 

“Taxable values in the county have come up dramatically over the last several years, and we’ve also become more efficient than we used to be,” Werner says. “This enables us to ask for a reduced amount without any reduction in service.”

Werner says this is a first in local history as far as he knows. He hopes KDL’s decision can help inspire others, too.  

“What we’re doing, as far as we know, is unprecedented,” he says. “We think we’re the first governmental entity taxing authority in Kent County to ask for a decrease.”

“If we can become more efficient and can redeploy resources in a more efficient way, thereby saving money, why shouldn’t we pass that savings onto the taxpayers? There’s no reason why not to,” he adds. “It really does help people keep more of their own money in their pockets, and we feel that’s very important.”
Photo by Tyler Herbstreith
Although the proposed millage would be a decrease, Werner reassures patrons that the resources, programming and events they’ve come to know and love won’t be cut, reduced, or offered any less frequently.

“Yes, we’re asking for less money, but no that does not mean a slowdown of services,” he says. “Because taxable values have gone up so much, and because we’re able to utilize technology, we’re able to use the money we get much more effectively.”

Streamlining operations like checking in materials which used to take 4-5 hours for multiple employees now can be done in 15 minutes with a few staff members, thanks to helpful technology.

Werner strongly believes the Library is a ‘third place’ for patrons, outside of home and work, and a ‘hub’ for a lot of county activity.The public library is one of the few places where you can walk in and not be expected to spend any money once inside their doors. With a plethora of free programming for all ages, KDL is a mainstay in the community. Whether it’s toddler storytimes or WonderKnook play, early literacy, high school diploma programs, job skills and resume help, Wi-Fi hotspots, KDL is there for patrons at each phase of their life.  

“A robust public library is able to provide a number of services that aren’t as easily available at other places, and we can help people multiply the value of each of their dollars by coming in and utilizing the service,” he says. “There are things we offer people that help them maximize their time and their dollar.”

Local entities are already showing their support for the proposed millage decrease. 

“We’ve talked with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and they are over the moon about the millage and what we’re doing,” Werner says. “They’re hoping it serves as a sort of a guideline for other taxing authorities going forward.”

Andy Johnston, senior vice president of advocacy and strategic engagement oversees government affairs, marketing, and communications at the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. Johnston says the Board approved endorsing the Nov. 7 KDL proposal. He says the proposed millage renewal with the decreased rate can help provide vital services to both residents and businesses in Kent County. 

“As we’ve grown, there are more people to get revenue from, so you can tax everybody a little bit less for those vital KDL programs,” he says. “Small business owners can get a great deal from KDL, there’s a number of resources to assist entrepreneurs. Our job at the Chamber and partnering with KDL is to connect emerging businesses with those different resources that exist. They’ve been great partners to support our entrepreneurs throughout the county.”

Johnston says the Library also improves the quality of life within the greater community. 
“When you’re trying to attract and retain talent into the community, a strong library system is part of that recipe.”

A large part of that community is serviced by the Kent ISD, partners with KDL. The school district serves more than 108,000 students across 20 public school districts, 23 public school academies and Christian and Catholic schools in the region. Their goal is to help districts direct more money to their classrooms, similar to KDL’s intention to keep more dollars in taxpayers’ pockets.

Kent Intermediate School District (Kent ISD) Superintendent Ron Koehler is proud to express gratitude for their partnership with KDL. 

“Kent District Library is an essential community resource that serves every segment of our community,” Koehler says. “That they are able to expand services, partner with school districts to lend expertise in library management, and provide engaging and exciting E-Sports opportunities for students while also lowering their millage rate is extraordinary.  Their leadership and stewardship are outstanding.  Every community member should be proud of the services provided by KDL and eager to support their continued success.”

The Library is sharing millage information with patrons and residents via interviews, in the branch, on social media, and through mailings. The general public can also learn more about the millage on KDL’s website.

Literacy Matters is a series focused on the importance of knowledge, community resources seeking to remove barriers to access, and the value of our library systems to society. Literacy Matters is supported by Kent District Library. 

Sarah briefly lived in Grand Rapids years ago, before moving back to Lansing, but that West Michigan love never really left her heart. Through her coverage on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, and anything mitten-made, she’s committed to convincing any and everyone -- just how great the Great Lakes state is. Sarah received her degrees in Journalism and Professional Communications. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at [email protected]

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