DORR TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The fate of a small-town library hangs in the balance Tuesday as voters head to the polls to decide if they want to give the Dorr Township Library more tax money.
The vote is a referendum in rural Allegan County about whether the community values its library.
Dorr Township is home to about 7,900 people and about 3,300 people have library cards for the little library next to the American Legion hall.
While people were using the library Monday, that could change if voters turn down a ballot request for a 1-mill increase Tuesday.
“If the millage does not pass, we’re gonna have to make some pretty drastic cuts,” said Rachel Vote, president of the Dorr Township Library Board. “The library cannot sustain.”
Without funding, those cuts would mean reductions in staff and hours of operation until December 2020.
“After December of 2020, if there isn’t other funding coming in, we will have to close the doors,” she said.
The library currently has a tax rate of just under .3 mills which means about 15-cents for every $1,000 of home value. The millage request would more than triple that amount to about 50 cents for $1,000 of home value.
The library gets $50,000 from the township and runs on a budget of $190,000. This increase would boost that bottom line to $230,000.
“The needs have changed as the community has changed and as technology has changed. It’s just not financially possible to keep up with the demand,” Vote said. “It just hasn’t been enough to make ends meet. We are currently in the lowest percentile of funded libraries in Michigan.”
The library’s funding bid comes three years after a smaller request from the library was defeated, 1,070 votes to 634 votes.
“After our catastrophic failure, as we kind of put it, we regrouped,” said Vote.
She said they carefully examined what the library will need not just to survive, but to grow.
There is no organized opposition to the library, but plenty of opposition to new taxes. The question will come down to whether Dorr Township voters see value in having a library.
The library is working to become about more than books, offering classes, crafts, computers and computer instruction.
The library serves residents in Dorr Township, part of Moline and Salem townships, as well as students of Wayland and Hopkins schools.
Libraries nationwide have had to adapt to the internet, becoming more than just a book repository by offering community resources.
“What we really want to do is further the people that we meet. Whatever it is that they’re missing in the community, we try to provide,” said Carrie Wilson, spokesperson for the Kent District Library.
KDL is Michigan’s largest library system, with 19 branch locations and an annual circulation of more than 8.2 million items.
Libraries now offer internet access for those who can’t afford it and even things like kayak rentals. But advocates say the most important thing offered by libraries now is culture, community and connection.
“The more the internet has allowed to remotely access each other, the more that people need that human connection. And libraries really want to fill that space and be the humans that care,” Wilson said.
Polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday and close at 8 p.m.