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Posted: 07/02/14


LIBRARY LAWSUIT. Washington Township is seeking legal action against the Romeo District Library after the Library Board declined to submit its 2014-15 budget for approval.

(Observer photo by Chris Gray)

Wash Twp suing RDL
after budget approval

by CHRIS GRAY
Observer Staff Writer
      The Romeo District Library (RDL) and Washington Township will go before a judge to determine how to approve of the former's budget.
       The Library Board voted 6-0 to approve of its 2014-15 budget at a public hearing held June 25.
       The board's decision to not seek budget approval from Washington Township by July 1 led to the township filing a lawsuit against RDL, claiming it is violating local ordinance.
       The matter will go to the Macomb County Circuit Court.
       The clash stems from disagreement over laws that dictate how libraries operate. The township is claiming that, under local ordinance, the library must seeks approval for its budget from its local governments.
       On the other side, the Library Board contends that the Michigan District Library Law gives it the ultimate authority to establish and approve the budget.
       Library Board President Elizabeth Miller said the suit goes beyond approval of the budget, saying the township is trying to manage decisions like staffing, resources or programming.
       "It is political even though it's been put in the paper that it's not political," she said.
       Washington Township Supervisor Dan O'Leary said if the judge sides with the township the library will "learn its lesson," but if they side with the library, he will have done all he could to "protect the public from the library's mismanagement."
       "They're fighting for the right to continue to screw the taxpayers, and we're not going to stand down," he said.
       The township's objections to the budget have included comparing it to other libraries, saying even though the RDL previously reduced operating costs by $1.6 million in 2012, it is the most expensive libraries in the county barring Warren and Clinton Township.
       "This dip in cost they claim was a one-time dip," he said. "If you look at their current budget, it went right back up."
       The RDL's 2014-15 operating budget is just over $1.9 million. In addition to operating expenses, the library plans on spending $205,500 in capital expenses, bringing total expenses to nearly $2.2 million.
       These capital improvements include new drop boxes, carpeting, lighting, and roof and parking lot repairs.
       RDL's revenue for the year was approved at just under $1.9 million, $1.7 million of which comes from its perpetual millage. To cover the expenses, the library plans to use money from its $1 million fund balance.
       Library Trustee Bill Grandstaff said the board has a duty to the patrons to do its job, and views the budget as part of its job.
       "I'm not going to back down or not do what I feel is our responsibility just because he (O'Leary) wants to threaten a lawsuit," he said.
      
Public input

       When asked by a resident what the RDL is doing to prepare for the lawsuit, Library Board Treasurer Mike Meloeny said the board set aside $20,000 in attorney fees, saying it doesn't expect it to be a drawn-out fight.
       "We've been told by the lawyer that represents the library . . . that state law supersedes municipalities," he said. "He (O'Leary) may not like the law, and everyone's got their own opinion about the law, but it's still the law of the land."
       Romeo resident Steve Mellen, who serves as the Macomb County equalization director, said Washington isn't going after other entities like Macomb Community College or Romeo Community Schools that also receive taxes from the township.
       "You are the only library that is being made to go through these hoops," he said. "I don't know where the township board is coming from."
       O'Leary said Mellen's objections were incorrect, as the Library Board is appointed by the communities of Romeo, Washington and Bruce, while others like the Board of Education are elected.
       "We, the elected officials who are accountable to the people, we do have jurisdiction over the board, and local law clearly says that," he said.
       Library Board Vice-president Debra Beauvais said the library gave the budget to local officials for them to review prior to the public hearing.
       Miller encouraged members of the audience to speak against the lawsuit, indicating two separate millages will be used to pay for the court battle.
       "We really would not like to amend this budget and take programming and books and different things out because we have to pay for a lawsuit," she said. "If it has to happen it has to happen."
       There were no objections to the budget from residents attending the public hearing.
       The budget can be found at www.romeodistrictlibrary.org.


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