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Posted: 06/25/14

Wash Twp seeks legal
action against RDL

by JERRY FRAEYMAN
Observer Special Writer
      The Washington Township Board of Trustees is taking the Romeo District Library (RDL) to court.
       At its June 18 meeting, the Washington Township Board of Trustees made good on a promise it has made for months by unanimously granting the township attorney the authority to pursue legal action against the RDL.
       At issue is a dispute over who controls the RDL budget. The RDL claims state law grants it the authority to establish its own budget without prior approval or oversight from the municipalities it serves.
       The Washington board contends, however, that under township ordinances, the library must seek the board's OK before spending any of the funds contributed by residents.
       The RDL operates under terms of Michigan District Library Law and receives funding from a perpetual millage created in 1996 by voters in Romeo, Washington Township, and Bruce Township. Each community appoints two members to the six-member RDL board.
       The RDL budget year begins July 1. A public hearing is scheduled for June 25 to review the budget and receive public comments.
       At the June 18 meeting, Dan Detkowsk, RDL board Secretary and a Washington appointee, shared RDL's proposed 2014-15 budget with the board. Supervisor Dan O'Leary noted that Detkowski's presence at the meeting was at the request of the township.
       "The library board has continued to take the position that they are not required to seek our approval," O'Leary said.
       Detkowski's presentation showed the library with an operating budget just over $1.9 million for the upcoming fiscal year.  On top of operating expenses, the library plans to spend an additional $269,500 on capital expenses, bringing total expenses for the year to nearly $2.2 million.
       Capital improvement includes lighting, carpeting, new drop boxes, and roof and parking lot repairs.
       The library predicts income for the year at a little below $1.9 million.
       To cover the projected shortfall, the library plans to use money from its fund balance, which stands at just over $1 million.
       The use of the fund balance and expenses caught the attention of Trustee Lisa Rapp, who expressed concern about using nearly one-quarter of the fund balance in a single year. She also voiced concern over the year-theocapital expense spending.
       Detkowski said the capital expenses are needed to address long-standing repairs.
       "I believe that we have to fix that library," he said. "It's been neglected for so long."
       O'Leary said he understood the need for capital expenses and occasional deficit spending to cover those high-ticket items. He drew comparisons to fire department spending.
       "My concern is not with the repairs," O'Leary said. "My concern is with the ongoing operating expenses. In this particular case, they'd be losing money even if (they spent) no capital. That's concerning."
       Operationally, the library projects increases in health insurance, wages, technology and maintenance, and service costs for the next year.
       O'Leary referenced studies that show the RDL with high operating costs and higher per-customer costs than comparable libraries.
       "This (the proposed budget) is not showing an improvement," O'Leary said.
       Detkowski acknowledged imperfections in the budget, but said he was encouraged that new director, John McNaughton, who began June 11, will set the proper course.
       "I believe over the next year or so, we're going to see improvement because we're going to have continuity and we're going to have the board stepping out of the day-to-day (operation) of the library," Detkowski said.
       While Detkowski's presence in front of the board was appreciated, it still wasn't enough for the trustees.
       When asked by Rapp if she and her colleagues had any say in the RDL budget he was presenting, Detkowski said best he can offer is the public meeting on June 25.
       O'Leary indicated he received the message Detkowski was conveying, which he believes is the "wrong message."
       "We do not go to their public hearing and beg them to please consider our opinion," he said. "Under the law of Washington Township, they are required to come to us and seek our approval."
       O'Leary and Clerk Kathy Bosheers both reiterated that the board's desire to review and approve the RDL budget is not a political issue.
       "This is not politics," O'Leary said. "This is governance. We are doing what we are paid to do, and that is to manage your money well. That's what we do here and we expect the same from the library."
       The RDL budgetary public hearing takes place June 25 at 7 p.m. at the Graubner Library.
      


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