EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Members of Friends of the Library, patrons and employees protest against budget cuts Monday In Menominee. On Tuesday, the Menominee County Board approved cuts in funding to the Menominee County Library.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

Members of Friends of the Library, patrons and employees protest against budget cuts Monday In Menominee. On Tuesday, the Menominee County Board approved cuts in funding to the Menominee County Library.

MENOMINEE — The proposed $25,000 cut to the Menominee County Library funding was finalized Tuesday, along with the Menominee County 2019-20 budget.

This cut in funding to the Menominee County Library was recommended Aug. 20 by the Menominee County Finance Committee in an effort to offset some of the county’s structural deficit. While the Menominee County Library’s annual operation costs are about $300,000 a year, the library only makes about $60,000. The remaining $275,000 operation costs comes from the Menominee County general fund balance.

The $25,000 would represent 7 percent of Menominee County’s total budget, including revenue from both the county budget as well as revenue from other areas such as grants. This cut is on top of a $5,000 cut which was already proposed before the Aug. 20 finance committee meeting.

Tuesday, the budget was the subject of a public hearing where several members of the community spoke in favor of the Menominee County Library and requested the county commissioners reinstate the library’s funding before finalizing the budget at the regular meeting.

Nancy Tuinstra, Daggett, said the the library has seen a great deal of budget cuts over the past two years and she believed it was too much too fast.

“Menominee County Library and the Bookmobile has been providing services to the county since 1919. Yes, a lot has changed since then but as a trustee of the library board, I can tell you Director Winnecki has stayed within budget with the accounts within her control,” Tuinstra said. “Last year, $10,000 was taken from the capital fund and this year the county had talked to her about taking $5,000, which she had done. Now, with a proposed $25,000 that’s $40,000 in two years. That’s a lot to swallow.”

She said the $25,000 does not balance the budget and asked that Menominee County Board of Commissioners, along with the library board and community, create a long-term plan for the library to ensure its funding.

“The Menominee County Library has been providing services to this county for 100 years. Let’s, together as a community, keep it going for another 100,” Tuinstra said.

Karen Kovach, Wallace, said the decision to cut the $25,000 from the library’s budget was too fast for the public give input and lacked transparency. The recommendation was made on Aug. 20 and brought to the county board Aug. 27.

“This decision was so steep, so sudden and so selective that it only seemed, in my mind, arbitrary and unfair,” she said. “In the name of transparency you owe it to the public at large and library supporters to explain this sudden change. What happened?”

She added that a “lack of transparency leads to a lack of trust.”

Kovach asked the board of commissioners to retain the library’s funding for the 2019-200 budget year so the library and the public could have time to find a solution to the budget. She also proposed the county form a task force to come up with ways to fund the library.

Commissioner Steve Gromala also spoke during the public hearing in favor of the county library.

“I’ve received approximately 300 emails and 27 phone calls about the library,” he said. “I asked those who called me ‘what services would you want removed to restore the library’s budget?’ They all started to see the dilemma this board is facing, but they also said they still wanted the library.”

He said the library’s funding needs to “come from somewhere” but he is still in favor of restoring the funding for a year. Gromala said he believed a year would allow the library and the county time to reconsider how it is funded and come up with ways to bring in revenue. 

“If in a year, there isn’t a plan for the library’s budget, I will be the first to suggest we cut the funding to it,” he said.

Library Director Amanda Winnicki gave the board a brief summary of the services the library provides to county citizens and some recent statistics during the regular board meeting, which occurred directly after the public hearing.

The main branch in Stephenson averaged 15 people an hour for the month of August. The Hermansville branch — which is only open three days a week — had 348 people visit. Over the past month, Winnicki said they had 293 people use the library’s wifi and issued out 38 new library cards. They library also provides services to seven schools in the county.

“We provide services to people of all ages. Some people have mentioned that we go to day cares, we visit group homes, adult foster care and senior homes and sometimes we’re the only process they have to bring books to them,” she said.

Winnicki said there are services that don’t show up on paper that many people don’t think about. Some examples she included was a man who came in to use their computers for an online job interview and mechanics and farmers who come in on a yearly basis to complete online training courses so they can update their licenses.

Commissioner Bernie Lang made a motion to amend the budget to reinstate the $25,000 to the library. This motion was supported by Gromala.

“I believe Menominee County is in good shape and able to provide the services our citizens expects. We commissioners have each received hundreds emails and phone calls asking the library’s funds not be cut. While very few said to cut the library’s funding. When a very large group of voters expresses a direction for the county to go, we must listen and consider it,” Lang said. “I personally do not support decreasing the library’s allocation.”

This amendment failed with a 3-6 vote. Commissioners Larry Schei, Lang and Gromala voted in favor of reinstating the $25,000 to the library. Commissioners David Prestin, Bill Cech, Jan Hafeman, Larry Johnson Jr., Larry Phelps and Gerald Piche voted against the amendment. 

The 2019-20 budget did have one successful amendment, to cut the Michigan State University extension contractual services MOA from the proposed $73,986 down to $73,000. Menominee County paid $73,000 for these services in the 2018-19 budget.

The proposed 2019-20 budget passed, as amended, with a 7-2 vote. Lang and Gromala voted against it.