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GR Library millage not getting any love from Chamber of Commerce

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Grand Rapids Public Library officials are hoping voters pass a 20-year millage on Tuesday they say is desperately needed to help cover operating costs. Currently, a 20-year millage that went towards both renovating the downtown branch and library building maintenance is expiring in 2018. If passed next Tuesday, the new millage will help supplement a budget they library says its been operating on since 2006. However, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce isn’t on board with the idea, as the chamber argues that the library isn’t being upfront about the new tax. 

“We’re concerned that this is being portrayed to the voters as a renewal, and we felt that was inappropriate,” Chamber Vice President of Government & Corporate Affairs Andy Johnston said. “Especially when there is currently a special millage already in place that is funding the library’s operations.”

While she confirms that the library does have a separate millage for operating costs, library director Marcia Warner says the Chamber is missing the mark.

“Well, first of all they are mistaken. It’s exactly the same tax that (the taxpayers) are already paying,” Warner said. “The reason it will not say ‘renewal’ on the ballot is because we’re using it for buildings, and materials and services to the public. And when you change any part (of the millage wording) you can’t call it a renewal. But it is exactly the same amount of money that they have been paying.”

Currently, a homeowner on average has paid around $18 per year to help support the library, or about $1.50 per month. However, Johnston says it isn’t necessarily about the money.

“Our biggest concern is a 20 year millage is far too long to be accountable to the voters. In a time of rapidly changing technology and service delivery the citizens of Grand Rapids aren’t going to be able to consider this millage again until 2037,” Johnston said. “Which effectively makes this tax impacting an entire generation of taxpayers.”

Warner says, the library wants to impact an entire generation, as the new millage will also contribute to the library’s early reading programs.

“We believe that 20 not years is not too long to look into the future," Warner said. "If we looked 20 years back, we couldn’t have predicted where libraries would be. But, we are more impactful on our people now than when we were 20 years ago.”

Voters will decide on Tuesday.

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