By Carol Stiffler

Curtis Public Library, which has been part of the Superior District Library (SDL) co-op, will transition to an independent township library this summer.

That decision was made unanimously in a roll-call vote at a special Portage Township Board meeting held Tuesday, June 6. The vote followed a difficult period of negotiations between Portage Township and SDL. When Portage Township refused to ask voters to increase the routine library millage from a half mill to a full mill, SDL pulled the plug on negotiations and said the contract with Curtis would not be renewed.

Determined to retain its library, Portage Township worked with Clare Membiela, a library law consultant with the Library of Michigan, to study what options remained. Membiela found legal support for three options, two of which included joining with Tahquamenon Area School Public Library in some capacity. The third option was to go it alone.

“We are in control of our own destiny,” said Portage Township Supervisor Don Reed. “The board recognized that this is our best path.”

A few requirements will need to be met. The Portage Township Board will have to appoint six people to the first-ever township library board. Those appointees will serve until the next general election, held in 2024, when candidates will run for those elected positions.

Members of the library board will be unpaid and are required to live in Portage Township. The board will direct library operations.

Portage residents who are interested in being appointed to the board should send a letter of interest to Portage Township Clerk Pat MacLachlan.

The township will also need to circulate a petition with 50 elector signatures and approve a millage to support the library. Portage Township residents have supported the library with a half mill for decades; that mill expires this year. Superintendent Reed said voters should expect to see the half mill request on the ballot at a special election held this November.

MacLachlan said preimlinary estimates show the township can successfully run the library on the traditional half mill that voters have approved in the past.

In addition to gaining autonomy, the library will also benefit from reapportioned penal fines. At the moment, Curtis receives a negligible amount of money from penal fines – money generated by things like traffic tickets – because the library exists within the Tahquamenon Area Schools Public Library district. Curtis Public Library can expect to receive a greater percentage of penal fines once the library has been established. Fines and applicable state money will be granted to the library according to the township’s population, and will modestly reduce the amount of penal fine money received by other libraries that serve Mackinac County.

Effective July 1, the library will stop charging a $45 non-resident fee to cardholders who live outside Portage Township. The non-resident fee was established and enforced by SDL. Library Manager Linda Blanchard said the fee was offputting to library users.

“It did outright stop some people from coming,” Blanchard said.

Township board officials, as well as audience members who attended the special meeting, said they felt the library should be free to the public.

The Friends of Curtis Library group is growing and adding new members at a rapid pace in recent weeks since news of the library’s contract expiration was released. Residents said they were alarmed by a letter from SDL that they found “misleading”, and have been eager to stand by the library at this time.

Reed said anyone who would like to contribute to the library should donate to the Friends of the Curtis Library group at the moment while the library is in a transition period.

The mood at the meeting was positive; Portage Township officials and residents are united in the cause to stand by the library.

“I think it’ll be a smooth transition and I think it’s in the best interest of the community to value our library,” MacLachlan said.

Going forward, the library is gearing up for its annual summer reading program, this year themed All Together Now.

The library is also the main organizer of Turtle Day, an annual day of fun that celebrates turtles. This year Turtle Day will be held on June 29, the day before the SDL contract with Curtis Library expires.

The Portage Township office can be reached at (906) 586-9522.