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Published: Thursday, 8/5/2004

Library levy successful despite vote in Bedford Township

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TEMPERANCE - For much of Tuesday night, Nancy Colpaert, director of the Monroe County Library System, stood near the door in the county clerk's office with a clipboard in her hand and a worried look on her face.

Results trickling in from the library's all-or-nothing gamble for its operating millage - asking voters to trade in two smaller levies for a single, larger one so the library can meet increasing demand for services - showed a close vote.

The vote was close everywhere except the one place where workers are putting the finishing touches on what promises to be the largest and grandest of the system's 16 branch libraries: Bedford Township. There, the proposal, which narrowly passed countywide, got pounded.

"I'm thinking it had something to do with the building," Mrs. Colpaert said, offering a possible explanation as to how a community could vote two years ago to build a $4.3 million library, then vote against putting anything in it or opening its doors.

While the library's 1-mill levy passed by a total vote of 9,954 to 9,730, it failed 2,131 to 1,602 in Bedford Township, Monroe County's largest municipality.

Its 30,000-square-foot Bedford branch now under construction was sold to voters in 2002 as a "renovation" costing 3/4-mill, but it bears little resemblance to the 15,000-square-foot building it is replacing.

Township officials believe the new library will quickly become the cultural and visual centerpiece of the community when it opens, probably in October.

But it also has had a number of high-profile construction problems and delays, such as when the project had to be rebid because the original contractor wasn't licensed to work on such projects; and when nearly five dozen trusses erected on New Year's Day collapsed into a pile of useless sticks that night.

"I think people probably said, 'We [had] construction problems. We didn't think this was what was going to happen to our library, and we're going to punish you [the county library system] for that,'‚óŹ" Bedford Township Supervisor LaMar Frederick said.

"Some of the citizens in our community voted against the county levy because they were not able to distinguish between the county [library] levy and the township [library] construction levy," Mr. Frederick suggested.

To be fair, the ballot measure also failed in Raisinville, LaSalle, Erie, Exeter, London, and Whiteford townships and in Milan, but all by very slim margins. It won by similarly small margins in Berlin, Ida, and Monroe Charter townships, and by just one vote in Luna Pier.

Tuesday's outcome would have been disastrous for the library system had not Frenchtown Charter Township and Monroe - the county's second- and third-largest municipalities - approved the 1-mill levy by about the same percentage as voters in Bedford rejected it.

Mrs. Colpaert said there may still be a basic misunderstanding among voters of how the library system works - that branch libraries are built and owned by the municipalities, but the library system operates them. That, along with the hot, humid weather and the ongoing Monroe County Fair, may have kept voters from the polls, she said. "I was surprised by [how close it was], because I thought people countywide had made an effort to improve their libraries. That's what the board was responding to - the increased demand for facilities," Mrs. Colpaert said.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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