By Diamond Henry
Bath-DeWitt Connection staff reporter
DEWITT — The city of DeWitt recently devised a proposal to renovate its district library and sent out renovation plans for the citizens of DeWitt in order to decide which plan was favored.
The library board came up with the idea to move the library to a bigger building in May 2013, but the citizens of DeWitt declined the idea based on concerns regarding taxes.
“We need more space,” said Library Director Jennifer Balcom.
Balcom operates the library on a daily basis.
“We’ve gone a couple times and asked taxpayers to get a new building and those haven’t been successful,” said Balcom.
Since taxpayers didn’t want a new library built, the DeWitt Library board partnered with DeWitt Township for a community survey asking the wants and expectations of the library that already existed. The main goal is to make the existing building more accessible and technologically inclined for citizens until the city is on board with opening a new building, according to Balcom.
“The concern was ‘How much is it going to cost me on my taxes if we build a new library?’ But overall, the community is really supportive of the library and we just get busier all the time,” said Balcom.
The plan for the library’s renovations that have been approved, however, costs no money to the citizens because no remodeling is involved. According to Balcom, the building’s new layout was strategically planned to take the existing building space and make it more patron-friendly, updated and used as a three- to five-year plan to see where new plans would go from there.
“We’re going to rent a space; we’re going to get rid of our public stationary computers and we’re going to have laptops and iPads that are available for patrons to checkout and use anywhere in the building,” Balcom said.
The extra space the library is renting is in the lot right next to the library at 13105 Schavey Road, Suite 3. According to Balcom, the lease is already signed and ready to go. The space needed would be for the citizens to work where they needed around the library for comfort and programming that the library offers. This is also due to safety reasons. Balcom noted the building’s fire code is 145 people and for the library, going over code can happen pretty fast.
“The only space available currently for teens to hang out is the children’s room. With a new area, it would create a comfortable space for both teens and younger kids that actually utilize the resources in the kid’s room, pleasing more than one demographic,” said Balcom.
The space rented would also be a place for local teenagers to hang out and work in their own area.
“I don’t come to the library, I usually buy my books; but if I can call the library and get all the books I need; it’s wonderful,” said Mary Jane Bollman, a longtime senior citizen of DeWitt.
Balcom seems to be pretty confident in the community’s response to the proposal.
“We want to build up the community’s trust and get to a point where the community perhaps is more willing to help us pass a mileage for a new building,” said Balcom.
Charles Ballard, a Michigan State University professor and expert in state and local public finance thinks the library board is on the right track but it could still be a stretch.
“You could sit down with them [citizens], you could have them over for a barbecue and they will still say ‘I will not vote for anything that involves raising taxes,'” Ballard said.
Ballard said citizens are more likely to trust and believe in local government or boards rather than federal or state because they have a personal connection, but none of that matters when increasing taxes is involved.
“Trust is essential, but another key thing is to convince taxpayers that this is really valuable,” said Ballard.
Citizen reaction to the library seems to be positive and welcoming as well.
“I think it’s going to make it better for everybody. I think it’s going to be able to use computers if people don’t access to one and that’s a good thing,” said Karmen Brown, a DeWitt resident who wasn’t aware of the proposal.
When the renovations of the library are planned to start is to be determined.