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I-Team Follow-Up: Kalamazoo Public Library

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Thursday night, the Newschannel 3 I-Team released the results of a months-long investigation of the Kalamazoo Public Library.

We found taxpayers in Kalamazoo pay one of the highest property tax rates for their library in the state, yet the library doesn't even rank in the top 10 in some key categories.

On May 6, voters will be asked to renew a millage that was originally passed 20 years ago.

The promise back then was if voters pass the millage, new libraries would be built and operated.

This time, there's no building, but they're still asking for continued public support.

We took a close look at the Kalamazoo Public Library as we studied why the city of Kalamazoo's  property tax rate overall is the highest in West Michigan.

We found the Kalamazoo Public Library is funded by the second highest rate of library property taxes in the state.

But in four major categories, KPL didn't stack up well against libraries serving similar populations.

For example, the library is in the middle of the pack when it comes to the library's total collection averaged out per person in the population--20th out of 44.

Library Director Ann Rohrbaugh said that's just one measure.

"When you ask me if people think they're getting their money's worth, they tell me they  are," she said.

Almost ninety percent of the library's revenues come from property tax--about two-thirds of  that money is used to pay for library staffing.

From a records request through the Freedom of Information Act, about a third of the library's 78 salaried employees make more than $60,000 in salary.

Rohrbaugh received more than $175,000 in compensation and benefits.

Rohrbaugh says her salary and the compensation of her employees is in line with other libraries across the state.

Voters will decide in a week and a half whether to continue to pay 30 percent of the library's funding for the next 20 years.

We asked why continue this portion of the tax load, when in 1994 this same tax increase was  passed largely to build facilities. There's no heavy construction this time around.

"Because of what happened to the economy; the current year we're in," Rohrbaugh said. "Revenue is down 1 percent and that has been a trend over the last 5-6 years.

"It's now operate those buildings, as well as some maintenance; when this central  library was built, we tried to save money. Not everything was upgraded," she added. "We need a new boiler, need a new elevator, and those particular parts of infrastructure are 50 years old."

Numbers from the state show the Kalamazoo Public Library paid less money last year for its entire collection than libraries in Battle Creek and Grand Rapids did.

At the same time, the numbers show the Kalamazoo Public Library spent more on staffing than the libraries in Grand Rapids or Battle Creek.