If public libraries are to continue to exist beyond the first half of this century, we all need to make that decision and we need to make it right now. I’m not talking about an emotional decision that “libraries are good”, and “we all loved story time”, and “what’s not to like about libraries?”
I’m talking about money and civic priorities. Many libraries in Michigan and across the country will survive the current annihilation of public library funding by state and local politicians, but a good number of them will not. Those that do will still contend with eroding tax bases: sometimes the enemy appears friendly. The best example on the local level is Tax Increment Financing Authority, or TIFA, diversions on property taxes captured by local taxing authorities. District Library millages are eroded by these tax diversion structures and in a poor economy the use of TIFA diversions increase. Common TIFA authorities are Downtown Development Authorities, Brownfield Redevelopment Authorities, Historical Neighborhood Authorities, Corridor Improvement Authorities and several others in Michigan. Sometimes public library Boards can opt-out of a TIFA diversion, but most of the time opt-out is not permitted by statute. The long and short of it is this: When a community votes a millage into effect for their local library, TIFA diversions in that community take taxes off the top of the Library millage and that money does not go to the purpose it was originally voted to support. There is great good in Brownfield Redevelopment, and Downtown Development Authorities provide important infrastructure and economic development support for communities. The cost can be too high, though, for tax supported public institutions. Legislation providing TIFA opt-in or opt-out language needs to be adopted. Libraries can only use taxes for library purposes. Libraries have no other taxing options available to support themselves. Library Boards are responsible for providing certain services with voted millages, and expectations for those services do not decrease with the tax base.