June 17 12:06 PM

Economic upturn

Ruth Hughes Library board pays building mortgage 10 years early

December 17, 2008
IMLAY CITY — All of the experts agree: In these uncertain economic times it's best to pare down debt.

Members of the Ruth Hughes Memorial Library board did one better—they wiped it out—the mortgage debt, that is. And they did it ten years ahead of time.

"After some discussion the board decided that given the economic times, the best thing the board could do to help taxpayers would be to pay off the mortgage early," says Kristen Valyi-Hax, library director.

The early payment—just under $300,000—saves $56,000 in interest payments, funds that will now be used to improve services and hours of operation.

Beginning February 2, 2009, the library will be open from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Considering that usage is up 19 percent from a year ago, Valyi-Hax says the move helps the community when they need it most.

"People can use the computers and the Internet for free for fun or job searches, or to check their email," she says. "We find that with the bad economy people are taking advantage of materials that they've already paid for with their tax dollars."

This ray of light in today's bleak economy wasn't so rosy a little more than a year ago. Because of funding shortages, area libraries were under the gun to keep the doors open. A 1.25 millage request placed before Lapeer County voters in August 2006 was defeated—which put library operations at risk. Without additional funding sources, the doors at Ruth Hughes Library were projected to close in December, 2007.

A concerted effort by a group library supporters and boosters stopped that from happening by launching a campaign to educate residents about what was at stake. In May, 2008, voters approved a 1 mill proposal to keep Lapeer County library doors open.

Librarian Theresa Pickering and director Kristen Valyi-Hax show off latest new music CDs offered at Ruth Hughes Memorial District Library. Bringing in current, popular materials is yet another way the library is adding to its services. photo by Catherine Minolli.

The support of residents, coupled with belt tightening and fiscal responsibility paid off, Valyi-Hax says. In September, board members began taking a look at the fund balance and discussing where it would be put to use the best.

"The library board decided that the fiscally responsible action would be to remove the library's debt," Valyi-Hax says. "Without taxpayer support and without the millage passing, the library would have closed—the fund balance would have gone toward operating costs."

Valyi-Hax says the interest savings will allow the library to continue offer current material and improved services, which board members and Ruth Hughes staff are eager to do.

"My hope is that taxpayers will see that by supporting the library back in May and continuing to support it in the future they can be confident that their money will be well spent," she says.

As it is, the library's 8,300 active registered users are enjoying those offerings. Patrons aren't just checking out books, Valyi-Hax says, DVDs and music CDs are hard to keep on the shelves—and the library's high speed Internet is popular, too.

"When times get tough for some people high speed Internet is considered a luxury and it goes away," she says. "So people come into the library to check their email and use the Internet."

Valyi-Hax says the library offers the latest in popular materials—fiction and non-fiction books, movies, music CDs and more.

"We have heard positive comments coming from our patrons about these things," she says.

Other library programs include story time for children, activities, workshops and presentations as well as Spanish language books, magazines and music CDs.

The library will host a community celebration after 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009. Residents are welcome to stop in for cake and check out what's new on the shelves.

For more information call the library at 724-8043.

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