By Carol Stiffler
Portage Township residents who hold library cards for Curtis Library were perplexed by a letter they received this week from the Superior District Library, to which Curtis Library belongs.
The letter indicates that the contract for Curtis Library will expire on June 30, 2023, and will not be renewed. The second page of the letter lists a detailed accusation alleging failed attempts to negotiate a new contract with the Portage Township board. People were named. Contractual payment details were shared. Superior District Library (SDL) Director Lisa Waskin, who authored the letter, said Curtis Library has been paying just $30,000 toward its $56,000 budget for years, and the shortfall is costing other libraries within the district.
In May 2022, the SDL board voted to allow the Curtis Library contract to expire on June 30, 2023, with the intent to draw up a new contract in the meantime. Contract negotiations failed, Waskin said, after Portage Township Supervisor Don Reed informed the SDL board that Portage Township would refuse to ask Portage Township residents to approve a full one mill to support the library. SDL voted to stop negotiating.
As a result, Superior District Library will no longer service Curtis Library after June 30, and Curtis Library cardholders will no longer be able to use their library cards at Bayliss Public Library in Sault Ste. Marie and Engadine Schools Library, in addition to libraries in Rudyard, Pickford, Brevort, Drummond Island, and Cedarville.
“We apologize to the residents of Portage Township who were not given the opportunity to have a say in this decision by the Portage Township Board,” Waskin wrote.
The details are not true, said Portage Township Supervisor Don Reed. While there were years with a budget shortfall, the difference was never the $26,000 Waskin makes it out to be. That’s due to fundraisers, donations, and fees paid by Curtis Library users – all of which went directly to SDL. And when there were shortfalls in the budget – which was set by SDL without regard to the half mill Portage Township residents pay annually to support the library – SDL should have approached Portage Township for more funds.
“I made it known several months ago that if there needed to be more funding to make sure the library stays afloat, or to make sure we are not shortchanging anything, that we would pay it out of the funds from the millage and the general fund if needed,” Reed said. “There are funds available.”
The library’s most recent budget was $43,700 annually, Reed said, and Portage Townships half mill covered $36,000 of that. The other funds from the half mill, which brings in $44,000, were kept to pay the heat, light, and maintenance costs for the library building, which the township owns.
Reed noticed other inaccuracies in the letter.
While the SDL letter claims the board voted on March 23, 2023 not to renew the Curtis Library contract, the district’s meeting minutes show the SDL board actually voted on March 2, 2023 to drop Curtis Library. That’s 20 days before Reed’s discussion with the SDL board about raising the millage – a conversation also referenced in the letter. During that discussion, no one mentioned to Reed that the board had already voted to end negotiations. Reed and Curtis Library staff found out on April 11, after a phone call with Waskin.
Reed suspects other motives were at play in SDL’s decision to drop Curtis Library, but he does agree that the two parties will be happier after parting ways.
No matter what, Reed believes the bustling library on Portage Avenue in Curtis likely won’t miss a day of operations while it transitions out of SDL and into its new status as an independent, township, or other form of library.
“This library is not going away,” Reed said. “I don’t see why we can’t keep operating the way we are…We have the funds to take care of it and we’ll go from there.”
All books, furniture, computers, and materials belong to Curtis Library and will remain in place. Reed expects the library to look and feel the same on July 1 as it does on June 30, its last contractual date with SDL.
Curtis Library has announced a summer full of plans and events (see related statement on this page from Library Manager Linda Blanchard). Library guests should expect to see the library maintain its schedule and services, she said, even after June 30.