Library request for $800K in “unanticipated” costs called into question

by ELENA DURNBAUGH

Debate over the library took center stage at the Macomb Township Board of Trustees meeting on June 26 with the board unanimously voting to postpone its decision on whether to approve the Clinton-Macomb Public Library Board of Trustees’ request for the township to pay $800,000 for Broughton Road right-of-way improvements.

During public comment, residents raised concerns over the cost. Resident Frank Cusumano called the request a “shrewd business decision” by the library board.

“You could call it a hustle, a flim-flam, a scam, but it really isn’t. It’s transferring expense from one public entity to another, and it apparently was known before,” he said. “And $800 thousand – the people in my neighborhood are not rich. They expect the trustees to be gatekeepers of the public trust. I’ve come up here repeatedly and said you should simply vote no.”

In November 2018, the board voted to transfer just over 7.5 acres of township property to the Clinton-Macomb Public Library for the new north branch. The land is across the road from Macomb Township Hall, located on Broughton Road just south of 25 Mile, and was valued at $341,145. The transfer was subject to two conditions: the dumpster enclosure meet ordinance requirements and all notes from all sheets indicating that Broughton Road improvements were to be done “by others” were to be removed.

Township engineer James Van Tiflin explained that several improvements are required on Broughton Road to make the site of the new library match the rest of the town center. Those improvements include the addition of a center turn lane, landscaping, sidewalks, street lighting, and spaces for parking.

According to Van Tiflin, last year in a meeting with the engineering department, the library indicated that there was a district library law that prevented it from paying for any right-of-way improvements.

“At that point, they had sort of indicated that they wanted, perhaps, the township to kick in some money towards these improvements,” Van Tiflin said.

In February, the library requested funds from the township for the improvement based on work done on a roundabout in Clinton Township. The request was for $280,000.

“I was not comfortable with having that come before the township board because I figured that the first question the board was going to ask is ‘How much are we talking about? Is this a good number?’ And an engineer did not put that estimate together. It was just a rough idea that the library personnel, I think, put together,” Van Tiflin said.

Last month, the library had another meeting with the engineering department, and Van Tiflin said that the library told him that it could not pay for an engineer or architect to pay for an estimate on right-of-way improvements. Following that meeting, the library asked the supervisor to authorize the township to pay for an estimate. The work was done by A.W., which estimated the cost of the improvements to be $800,000 in total.

Trustees were concerned about the price tag and Van Tiflin was lambasted with questions. No one from the library was present at the board meeting.

Citing a letter the library sent to the board that discussed “unanticipated costs,” Trustee Tim Bussineau wondered if additional charges at the library site would be passed along to the township. Trustee Roger Krzeminski also wondered about how much costs would increase over the course of the project.

“Costs are going to be going up within a year of two or three years from now,” he said. “So this 800 could be a million, 1.2 million somewhere down the line.”

Referencing the library letter and minutes from previous meetings that acknowledged bond money could not be used to pay for right-of-way improvements, Clerk Kristi Pozzi questioned how the library could call the costs “unanticipated.” She also questioned why the township donated the land.

“Why didn’t we consider them using those dollars to purchase the land from the township, and then, in turn, we could use that money to go towards these “unanticipated” expenditures?” she asked.

Van Tiflin, who was not a part of the preliminary discussions about the library, was unable to provide an answer.

Supervisor Janet Dunn said that the township would have to pay for right-of-way improvements no matter what it built in the area, but Van Tiflin pointed out that, in this case, the library was the developer and not the township.

Pozzi also brought up several concerns with the library’s request, including that the library board asked the Macomb County Department of Roads to help pay for the improvements on behalf of Macomb Township. Supervisor Janet Dunn said that she thought that Camille Silda, vice president of the Clinton-Macomb Public Library Board of Trustees, approached the county executive’s office on the library’s behalf to see if the county would agree to cost-sharing.

Van Tiflin said that he was uncomfortable with allowing the library to start construction without resolving who would pay for the improvements.

“I think this needs to be resolved one way or another before we allow them to really start spending a lot of money.”

As the discussion progressed, Krzeminski asked for clarification on who owned the land. Thomas Esordi, acting as township general counsel, said that the ownership of the land was transferred to the library as part of the agreement.

Neither Esordi nor Van Tiflin could say why bond money was not used to pay the township for the land and then used to make the improvements.

The Board of Trustees postponed making a decision on the request until the July 10 board meeting in the hopes that they will have more information from both Macomb County and library at that time.