Millage renewal necessary for Bay County libraries
October 2, 2006 —
Bay County voters were asked on Aug. 8 to renew 1.2 mills of an operating millage, supporting the five county libraries and the Bookmobile. Much to the bewilderment of the Library Board and the residents using these facilities regularly, this millage failed. The impact will affect not only those living in Bay City but also students of SVSU if the second opportunity to renew it fails once again.
The library millage is up for renewal again in November. The key term here is renewal: this is not an increase, and taxes will not go up. The millage has remained unchanged for eight years and with this renewal, will not change for another four. This will provide a majority of funding across the board for programs, collection development, staff, and utilities, not to mention other special services offered.
If the millage is not renewed it will be devastating, because all the programs, services, and basic operations will be in jeopardy. The revenue is critical because it accounts for a little over 61 percent of the operating budget. What would happen? The cuts would begin. They would be forced to cut services, hours, and staff, or even close some buildings.
Those at SVSU who live in Bay City or the surrounding area often find it much easier to use the library closest to them rather than making the long drive to campus. From personal experience, in the rare case when SVSU did not have a book I needed, one of the Bay City libraries had it.
The education department has a class called "Children's Literature." Last semester, one of my friends had the class. Their assignments took them all over town looking for specific books, authors, and topics. The thing that I remember hearing more often than anything was how she found most of her books there and how nice and helpful the staff was in Bay City.
Some day-to-day services at all Bay County libraries include: the Children's Summer Reading Program, preschool story times, puppet shows, teen group book discussion, teen summer reading programs, adult "Booked for Lunch," author days, small business startup seminars and the Bookmobile, getting books to senior citizen centers and area preschools.
In addition, funds would also go to maintaining and improving the library's collection of books, magazines, and audiovisual materials like tapes, videos, CDs, CD-ROMs and DVDs.
Another important part is to keep the computer and Internet services, which provide public access and give the opportunity to have computer classes.
As of June 1, more than 85,000 people held library cards in the Bay County Library System. This includes 75,000 County residents and 9,238 non-residents. These patrons used their library cards to check out over 980,000 items in the past year, up over 12 percent from 2003 when the new and renewed libraries opened. This number could jump to over a million. To put this in perspective, according to the Census, Bay County only has 110,000 residents, meaning 69.3 percent of them hold library cards, a pretty big majority.
The New Alice and Jack Wirt Library circulation for the first month of operation was 41,000 items, which can partly be attributed to people wanting to look around. The thing is, the monthly average of the Bay City Branch is around 17,000 items; less than half.
What is especially interesting is one of the other things voters approved in the recent years. The library improvement plan in 2000 called for a 27 million dollar project that voters approved, totally separate from the current millage that was created before this plan. This was essential in improving existing facilities and creating new ones. With four projects recently completed and a fifth in design, this seems hardly the time to bail out on the funding to run them.
If this doesn't pass, it seems to me Bay County will have buildings sitting there, not being used to their potential. Not only that, but what will happen if one or two are closed? They would most likely be the New Auburn or Pinconning branches, affecting those smaller communities tremendously even though they supported the libraries the most.
Those who use the libraries, those that take part in the programs and services they offer, and those that think a library is necessary to a community should be voting for this renewal. I don't think people realize how important something as small as a library is to a community.
It's always important to vote, but more than the actual task of voting is knowing what or who you are voting for. Get educated instead of going to the polls and just picking random people or things that sound good at the moment. To me, that's worse than not voting at all.
Usually getting information is no harder than picking up a copy of a newspaper, which you can always find at your local library, including any of the Bay County libraries.