August 18, 2016
Mayor Leiken, Mr. Chairman, and Members of the Task Force:
I would like to start by saying that the other members of the Shaker Heights Public Library Board of Trustees and I understand the importance of the charge Mayor Leiken has given to this Task Force. We share with the Task Force a commitment to preserving Shaker’s quality of life while minimizing the tax burden on residents.
And we applaud the time and effort Task Force members have committed to this challenge. As members of the Board that has statutory responsibility for Shaker Library, we understand what this kind of volunteer service entails.
The report the Task Force is considering tonight raises the question of the most cost effective way to provide library services to Shaker residents and recommends that the Board of Trustees of the Shaker Heights Public Library begin the process of merging in to the Cuyahoga County Public Library system. This process is called “inclusion” and when a Library Board votes for inclusion in a county system, they are saying, “Here, please take this off our hands.” It amounts to giving away your independent library and its assets.
As members of the Task Force already know, inclusion is also a question Shaker Library has chosen to explore. We are facing $5 million in much-needed repairs to our facilities – $4 million for the Main Library in the old Moreland School building and $1 million for the Bertram Woods branch – and we have an obligation to Shaker residents to examine all viable options for solving this problem.
We have been developing an analysis of our options and have identified seven possible solutions. One of these options is seeking inclusion within the County system. As we previously informed the Task Force, we are carefully doing our diligence on each option and we anticipate reporting on our findings in September.
Despite our shared interest in this topic, however, I will be voting NO tonight on the question of accepting this report and its recommendations.
My NO vote tonight should not be seen as negative commentary on the Cuyahoga County Library system. Like Shaker Library, the Cuyahoga County Public Library is considered one of the best library systems of its type in the country.
My NO vote also should not be interpreted as a statement against merger with the Cuyahoga County system. The Shaker Library Board has not taken a position for or against inclusion. Until our analysis of our policy options is completed and our Board has acted on it, we consider inclusion to be an open question.
Presenting a recommendation on inclusion as this report does, however, communicates both to the Library Board and to Shaker residents that the Task Force now considers inclusion a closed question, a question for which it has an answer.
The reason I will vote NO on accepting this report is that it does not, in fact, close the question. It takes a position on the disposition of Shaker Library, while leaving many critical concerns unanswered or only partially addressed.
I have expressed to the Task Force on multiple occasions my belief that due diligence on the possibility of inclusion requires a rigorous examination of a host of issues. As a part of Shaker Library’s analysis of its policy options, we developed a ten-page memo outlining questions about the impact on inclusion that we felt were necessary to reach an informed conclusion. I provided this memo to the Task Force in the hope that it would consider them.
The Task Force report, however, looks at very little beyond the effect that merging Shaker Library into the county system would have on property taxes.
This report provides limited data about Shaker Library and omits important information about its operations. It was developed with minimal requests for information from Shaker Library’s staff and board and it was discussed at meetings that were scheduled at times when Shaker Library’s representatives had informed the Task Force that they were unable to attend.
The report speaks only in the broadest terms about the impact that inclusion would have on services and on the partnerships with local organizations that Shaker Library has built over the years. It is silent on the differences between having our library governed by local residents and having governed by a county system, and the effects that changing our library’s governance will have on decisions that affect Shaker residents. And it doesn’t examine how the county system determines the locations from which it will provide services and the impact that may or may not have on our two current library branches.
I understand that some may think that answering these questions is beyond the Task Force’s purview, but our charge isn’t just minimizing the tax burden alone. It’s doing so while preserving Shaker’s quality of life, which, in my view, makes them relevant to the Task Force.
But even if you believe this Task Force should look at fiscal issues with minimal context, this report leaves important questions about the fiscal issues it raises unanswered.
Using effective millage numbers – the percentages that determine what homeowners actually pay – inclusion in the county library system would result in a reduction of millage of 1.3 mills, which around 1% of Shaker’s total property tax millage. This difference amounts to a reduction in annual property taxes of a little more than a dime per day – $40.97 per year – for every $100,000 in home value.
Shaker Library has operated independently as a Shaker civic institution for almost 80 years. Unlike many of Shaker’s other institutions, it was not part of the Van Sweringen’s master plan – it was conceived and built through the effort of generations of Shaker residents. Its assets and operations have been paid for by taxpayer dollars, state funding and contributions from the community.
The MFTF’s report recommends that in return for savings of a little more than a dime a day, Shaker should give all of this away.
And it does so without a complete picture of the costs and benefits involved.
The looming question about cost is that there is no guarantee that the County system will continue to operate the Main Library in the old Moreland School. There are strong reasons for them not to. The City owns Moreland School and the Library is its tenant. The building needs $4 million of repairs. Instead of paying for these repairs, the simplest solution for the County Library would be to move out of Moreland School and serve Shaker residents through the Woods branch and their other nearby County Library branches. It would immediately reduce their capital needs by $4 million. And the City of Shaker Heights would be left with the responsibility for another empty school building – one that needs $4 million of repairs.
The pressing question about the benefits of inclusion is how long the County library millage will remain at its current level. There is no guarantee that Cuyahoga County Public Library will not seek a property tax increase. Right now, Shaker voters alone control the Library’s tax millage; after inclusion, Shaker voters will have only a limited impact on the decision. If the County system pursues a tax increase, Shaker residents could find in the near future that they gave away their library, saddled the city with an empty school building that needs $4 million in repairs and no longer have any property tax reduction to show for it.
Because of these unanswered questions, I view inclusion in the County library system as an open question and see the recommendation in this report as being premature. It lacks the evidence necessary to provide much guidance to the Shaker Library Board about how to proceed. We can and will, however, take it under advisement as a matter of opinion.
Mr. Chairman, I will provide these comments to you in writing and would respectfully ask that they be included as a dissenting opinion with this report, should it be adopted by the Task Force. It is my hope that you will agree to do so. Our meetings are conduced in private, without minutes, and Shaker residents should have access to the full scope of our discussion on this issue.
Thank you for allowing me to comment.
Chad Anderson, President Library Board of Trustees
Shaker Heights Public Library