East Lansing voters will have an opportunity to vote on several ballot questions in the November 8 election, one of which is specific to East Lansing. This nonpartisan voter guide from ELi aims to explain the local ballot question on whether to renew a millage for the East Lansing Public Library (ELPL).
What is the exact language that will appear on the ballot?
The ballot question has two parts: the question on which voters will choose “yes” or “no” and some explanatory language. Here is the title and full 150 words:
“RENEWAL OF EAST LANSING PUBLIC LIBRARY MILLAGE
“To support the East Lansing Public Library, shall the City of East Lansing be authorized pursuant to MCL 397.201 to impose a renewal of a millage of up to .997 mills (99.7 cents per $1,000 of taxable value), for a period of ten (10) years (2023-2032) inclusive, to be deposited in a separate fund for the exclusive use of the East Lansing Public Library under the direction of the East Lansing Library Board? Such millage, if fully levied, would raise an estimated $1,309,690 in the first year.
“[All amounts levied under this millage on property located outside the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority will be disbursed directly to the East Lansing Public Library. Michigan law requires that certain amounts levied under this millage on property located within the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority be disbursed to that authority. Disbursement to that authority is estimated to account for less than 5.45% of total millage revenue.]”
Why is this millage a renewal and not a new millage?
Ten years ago, in November 2012, East Lansing residents voted for the first time to support a millage that would provide property tax funds dedicated to the ELPL. The millage that was approved in 2012 was for 10 years, and the question on the November 2022 ballot would extend that millage for another 10 years.
Why is the amount of the millage .997 mills instead of 1 mill?
The short answer is that seeking .997 mills is what makes the millage a “renewal” of the 1 mill that voters adopted in 2012, according to City Attorney Anthony Chubb, rather than an increase or restoration.
A somewhat longer answer about the rate of .997 mills this time is that the “Headlee Amendment” and Proposal A in the Michigan Constitution require local governments to reduce millage rates when the growth in the value of existing property is greater than the rate of inflation. A fuller explanation can be found in an article by Michigan State University Extension, “What is a Headlee Override?”
What is a “mill” of property tax?
A “mill” is one tenth of one cent; it is described more commonly as $1 for each $1,000 of taxable property value. The taxable value of a property is generally half of its assessed value. So, if someone owns a house with an assessed value of $100,000, the taxable value is $50,000, and 1 mill of levied taxes is $50. A tax rate of .997 mills would mean a tax amount on that property of $49.85.
This means that a property with an assessed value of $200,000 would pay about $100 per year if this millage renewal passes. (Note that, because this is a renewal, this would not represent an increase of taxes.)
Will the ELPL get about 1 mill or about 2 mills of property tax?
The City, Village, and Township Libraries Act (MCL 397.201) allows a city council to levy up to 2 mills of property tax for a public library. A council may approve 1 mill of levied tax by its own vote and also may increase that amount by up to 1 additional mill if a majority of the voters approve it.
On May 24, 2022, the City Council authorized .997 mills of property tax for the ELPL as part of the Budget, Tax Rate, and Fee Schedule for Fiscal Year 2023 (which begins on July 1, 2022). So, that assured a renewal of about 1 of the approximately 2 mills for the library going forward.
Then, on June 21, 2022, the Council unanimously approved placing on the November 8 ballot the question on which voters will decide whether to approve an additional .997 mill for the library for the next 10 years.
So, if voters approve this ballot question, the ELPL will receive a total of 1.994 mills of property tax annually, which will be an estimated $2,278,105, based on property taxes projected for fiscal year 2023. (FY 2023 is the last year of the ELPL millage approved in 2012. If voters pass the library millage renewal on November 8, the new 10-year millage will begin in FY 2024.)
How important is the millage to the ELPL’s overall funding?
In 2016, at the request of readers, ELi investigated the question of whether the library millages really improved the library’s financial situation or were just used to backstop the City’s General Fund to help with the City’s financial problems. We reported then that most of the millage revenue was indeed going to replace funds previously given to the library from the General Fund, and that the library saw an increased net benefit of only about $250,000 annually from the millages.
However, since that time, the Council has been approving budgets based on the assumption that the library would survive from the millages, not from substantial help from the General Fund as in the past. Therefore, if the millages were to now end, the library would face a very uncertain future financially.
Amy Zaagman, vice president of the ELPL Board of Trustees, told the City Council on June 21, 2022, that “ELPL will have to reduce hours, staff and services to the community if the millage fails.”
The majority of the library’s funding now comes from the dedicated millage of approximately 2 mills, estimated to bring in $2,278,105. The budget sent to the City Council summarizes the sources of ELPL’s total funding of $3,357,810 in FY 2023. It also identifies three categories of ELPL expenditures: personnel services of $1,601,030, operating costs of $918,880, and capital outlays of $837,900.
Both the income and expenditures of the ELPL have varied significantly over recent years because of multiple factors, some of which ELi has reported on. (Find ELi’s reporting on the library here.) These include a reduction (and now rebounding) in staffing related to the COVID-19 pandemic, large one-time renovations and maintenance projects on the library building with significant cost overruns, and one-time American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds that will be used in FY 2023 for audio-visual system upgrades and new pickup lockers. The budget for FY 2023 is a 10.5 percent decrease from the previous year because some infrastructure projects are winding down, according to the City budget document.
Does the City of East Lansing pay for expenses of the library, in addition to funds received from the mills that are specifically for the library?
Zaagman said in her June statement to the Council that, while some categories of ELPL’s expenses are paid by the City, they are reimbursed by the ELPL from the Library Fund through intergovernmental payments. These include computer services, services of the City Clerk, and landscaping, maintenance, repairs, and snow removal, Zaagman said.
Who is supporting the library millage ballot question and what are their reasons?
The millage is being supported by Friends of the East Lansing Public Library (FOELPL) and Citizens for the East Lansing Public Library, a ballot committee formed after the 2012 millage vote, according to FOELPL President Maureen McCabe-Power. FOELPL has been the major donor to the ballot committee over the years. The ballot committee, which is coordinating support for the millage this year, had a balance of $10,317 on July 20, 2022. The committee is ordering and distributing a mailer and yard signs, according to Abigail Tykocki, treasurer of the group.
FOLEPL was formed in the 1980s to help raise funds to supplement the library’s operations. It is led by President Maureen McCabe-Power. Its Spring 2022 Friend to Friend Newsletter said, “The most significant source of funding for the library is a ten-year millage. A critical way FOELPL supports the library is to campaign for millage renewal, which comes up this year.”
Two frequent messages from supporters of the ballot question are that voting “yes” on the millage will not increase property-owners taxes and that the library is a valued resource in the community.
Tykocki told ELi, “This is not a tax increase; it’s just a renewal of the millage.”
While it is true that continuing the library millage if “yes” votes prevail would not increase an individual’s property taxes, it also is true that terminating the millage if “no” votes prevail would decrease an individual property’s taxes by .997 mills.
Nell Kuhnmuench, a member of Citizens for the East Lansing Public Library, made a case for the services of the ELPL in an email to ELi: “Our library is not only beautiful, it provides amazing resources for our community. From access to an enormous number of books, both newly published and classic, for all age levels; there are also books on tape, e-books, CDs for music and movies; access to movie sites such as Kanopy; tool and seed ‘libraries’; a library on wheels that takes many of the library resources to the community at convenient times and places, such as the summer farmers’ market; helpful, knowledgeable staff; storytimes for little people; Maker Studio with 3D printers; diverse programming; teen after-school program; free use of computers and Wi-Fi; and so much more.”
Who is opposing the library millage ballot question?
ELi is not aware of any organized opposition to the library millage. If we learn of any, we will update this voter guide.
What was the vote on the library millage 10 years ago?
In November 2012, the first 10-year millage for the ELPD was approved by a vote of 10,519 to 4,511, or 70 percent in favor and 30 percent opposed.
What does the explanatory language on the ballot about the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority mean?
Any Brownfield Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Plan in the City of East Lansing currently capturing taxes will capture the library millage revenue and redirect those funds to the BRA.
Much of East Lansing’s downtown is currently under various TIF plans, as are the Costco property, parcels that were developed along Trowbridge Road, and elsewhere. (Find a partial list of East Lansing TIF plans here.) In these locations, the owners will pay the library millage if the proposal passes, but those funds collected will be redirected to the BRA.
The millage revenue from these properties is estimated to account for less than 5.45 percent of what is collected from the millage for the ELPL. This means that, by our calculation, about $124,000 of the “library millages” will go to the BRA, not ELPL, if the ballot proposal passes. (The City confirmed for us the underlying assumption in this calculation.)
All the revenue from the ELPL millage on properties not subject to Brownfield TIF plans will be distributed to the library.
UPDATE: Director of Planning Tom Fehrenbach provided ELi with updated numbers on how much money is expected to be redirected from the library millages to the BRA: “Current expected FY 23 revenue of library $2,464,449.92 (subject to change), actual captured BRA amount for current tax year 138,560.39.”
This means the percentage expected to be redirected is 5.62%, not the 5.45% estimate on the ballot.
Where will the ELPL millage question be located on the ballot?
It is expected the library millage will be the last question on the ballot. Tykocki pointed this out, saying, “Like a good book, you’ll have to read [the ballot] all the way to the end.”