Guest Column

Chamber opposes Grand Rapids Public Library’s 20-year tax

October 13, 2017
| By Rick Baker |
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This November, the Grand Rapids Public Library (GRPL) is asking city residents for a new tax.

The library’s capital millage is expiring, and it is asking residents for a new 20-year tax to be used for expanded purposes, including operations, maintenance and capital projects.

After meeting with GRPL and considering its plan, the Grand Rapids Chamber has decided to oppose this millage.

While we believe libraries are critical in providing all area residents and businesses access to knowledge and resources, a tax increase is not the best way to support the library's future.

Why?         

First and foremost, it is crucial to understand GRPL has a long-term budget issue. The Chamber believes it is inappropriate to use an expiring capital millage and convert it to operations under the guise of a “renewal.”

When GRPL asked taxpayers for extra funding to “catch up” with needed building repairs, the voters dug into their pockets and gave more. Now, it wants to tax at a higher level and shift the money toward operations and salaries. Operations and programming should not be supported by a special millage when taxpayers already contribute $8.5 million to the library’s budget through an existing millage.

Secondly, 20 years is far too long to be accountable to voters. In a time of rapidly changing expectations, technology and service delivery, the citizens of Grand Rapids won’t be able to reconsider this tax until 2037. Most millages span for 10 years or less. This tax will impact an entire generation of taxpayers.

Third, as the world changes, so must our thinking about how we deliver and pay for services. The chamber has placed a high priority on local governments pursuing every possible pathway to reduce duplication and increase service sharing. We ask for the same level of vision when it comes to operating our system of libraries and believe the two library systems in Kent County would benefit from stronger partnerships. Greater service sharing would both improve the quality of services and make better use of taxpayer resources.

Serious steps toward collaboration and restructuring will ensure long-term sustainability. We strongly feel that an unrestrictive, long-term tax increase removes incentives to pursue these goals.

Libraries play a vital role in our communities, but we need to fix structural issues before we embark on two decades of increased taxes.

We urge a “No” vote on Nov. 7.

Rick Baker is president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

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