After unanimous approval from its board of trustees, Kent District Library will ask voters this fall to consider a millage renewal at a reduced rate to fund its operations for 15 years.
On Nov. 7, Kent County residents in the Kent District Library service area will be asked to consider a new rate of 1.1 mills, which reflects a reduction of 10.9% off KDL’s current millage rate of 1.2355 mills. If approved, taxpayers will see immediate savings as the KDL Board has committed to lowering the millage rate effective Jan. 1, 2024, even though the current millage doesn’t expire until Dec. 31, 2024.
If approved, the lower millage will save taxpayers $3.1 million annually or $46.5 million over the life of the millage. With the new lower rate, the average homeowner in the KDL service area will pay $145.75 annually for access to library services – or $2.80 per week, less than the cost of most cups of coffee.
KDL serves residents in 27 municipalities through 20 branches, a bookmobile, its main service center, 5,000-plus annual in-person programs and a host of patron-focused services, from in-branch printer/Wi-Fi access and loanable mobile hot spots to early literacy initiatives and an extensive collection of talking books and Braille resources. Approximately 90% of its operating funds come from the millage.
If approved, the millage will generate $26.6 million in its first year, which will cover the expense of physical and digital collections, employees, programs and events, tech tutoring and other library services, rent and other expenses. The millage will expire Dec. 31, 2039.
“Kent District Library is able to lower its millage because we are part of a thriving and growing community where new taxable real estate has produced more revenue,” said KDL Board Chair Andy Erlewein. “As good stewards of taxpayer dollars, we want to lock in savings for residents now.
“The reduced millage will allow KDL to continue offering its current slate of programs and services – and to add new materials, programs, events and services at our historic rates. We remain committed to providing vital access to information, programs and services for more than 440,000 residents in our service area in Kent County.”
KDL exists to further all people and is an open and welcoming hub for everyone. Last year, the award-winning library system logged more than 2.1 million interactions with patrons, including branch visits, event participation and virtual program attendance. KDL has nearly 140,000 patrons, adding 20,395 new card holders last year.
In 2022, KDL saved individual library users an average of $1,348 in value for physical and digital items they would otherwise have had to purchase. During that same period, library users saved $85.2 million by checking out physical materials and digital items.
KDL’s collection is extensive, with more than 700,000 physical items and 15.6 million digital items. These include books, e-books, apps, magazines, movies, television programs, audio books, video courses, video games, music, online databases, research materials and at-home learning materials, as well as access to statewide materials and collections. In 2022, total circulation rose 6% to more than 7.1 million while computer and Wi-Fi usage grew 26%.
Known for its family-friendly programs, KDL offers more than 5,600 programs and outreach events each year, from its popular baby/toddler/preschool story times, learning labs and craft classes to book clubs, concerts and special activity and interest groups. Program and outreach attendance grew more than 61% in 2022.
KDL also offers:
- Its Talking Book & Braille Center, which provides resources and services for people who are blind and physically disabled.
- Resources to support early childhood literacy for parents, teachers and schools, ensuring students are proficient and confident readers by the time they reach third grade.
- A bookmobile, which brings library services to patrons in remote or underserved communities through a wide range of services, from mobile book checkout and return, story times and book talks to large-print collections, translation technology and community resource referrals.
- Wi-Fi and public computer access, bridging the digital divide. KDL increased the number of Wi-Fi hotspots and the length of checkout because one in 10 households in Kent County have no broadband access. Wi-Fi hotspots continue to be the most frequently checked out item.
“KDL works to foster a lifelong love of reading, learning and critical thinking, while providing resources that are open and welcoming to all in our community,” said KDL Executive Director Lance Werner. “Our branches provide a critical ‘third place,’ distinct from home and work, that allows residents to build important connections with their neighbors.
“This millage will support our programs and services we offer, as well as our physical spaces. As an organization, we very much reflect the needs and wishes of each community we serve. From young learners to senior scholars, we offer age-appropriate materials, programs and services that reflect the diverse interests and points of view of our entire community.”
KDL traces its roots to 1927 when the Kent County Federation of Women’s Clubs established a library extension work project. The county took on the project in 1936, establishing the Kent County Library Association and began operating the library as a department.
Kent District Library was established in 1994 and funded by a millage to provide library services to the growing community. Beloved by patrons, KDL also receives financial support from a series of Friends of the Library groups, dedicated volunteers who support their branches through book sales and other fundraising activities.
Today, KDL employs 346 people and receives more than 4,000 hours annually from more than 500 volunteers. KDL is governed by a board of trustees who are appointed by the Kent County Board of Commissioners for four-year terms and represent various geographic regions of the county.
Recognized as a leader among libraries, KDL has won numerous awards and accolades for its collections, programs, services and team, including recognition as one of America’s Star Libraries, given the highest 5-star rating by the Library Journal Index of Public Library Service and a Top Innovator Award from the Urban Libraries Council’s Innovation Initiative for Institutional Change and Strategic Management.
Additionally, Werner won the American Library Association’s Ernest A. Di Mattia Award for Innovation and Service to Community and Profession. KDL staff have also been recognized by Library Journal with the Mover and Shaker Award and by Michigan Library Association with the Francis H. Pletz Award for Excellence in Service to Youth.
“If voters approve the millage, they will continue to enjoy the collections, digital access, programs, services and events they have come to know and love,” Werner said. “We would, however, be forced to close our doors if the millage fails since the bulk of our funding – approximately 90% – comes from millage dollars.”