Drivers who receive traffic citations on Michigan highways aren’t likely to be happy, but there is one thing that might make paying the fine a little less painful.
“If you get a speeding ticket, you’re helping out your local library,” said Jessica Enget, director of the Lincoln Township Library, who admitted to paying for her “lead foot” in her younger days.
Part of the penal fines paid for violating state laws, largely traffic violations, are distributed to libraries annually.
Berrien County Treasurer Bret Witkowski announced this week that he had sent $1,158,101 to 15 libraries. The amount is provided on a per capita basis calculated by the population of the library’s service area.
Lincoln Township’s share is $163,458. That’s 13 percent of the library’s budget, Enget said. It is the second-largest source of funding for the library, behind only property taxes, and is more than the state funding.
That amount could cover the library’s collections budget for the year, Enget said.
St. Joseph collected $135,074 for this year, and Niles received $188,632.
While drivers aren’t slowing down, the amount of the fines received by the libraries is stuck in reverse. In 2018, the Berrien treasurer distributed $1,161,084 in penal fines. The countywide distribution was $1.5 million in 2015. For 2018, the distribution rate for Berrien County was $7.36 per capita. In 2015 it was $10.01.
The Lincoln township library received $181,476 last year, Enget said. The decline is an issue nationally, and not just in Michigan, she said.
Benton Harbor library Director Kat Boyer said for 2015-16 they received $248,000, and this year it was $182,000.
“That’s a big ol’ smack in the face,” Boyer said of the rapid decline. “That’s a big swing in a short amount of time to lose $70,000.”
As a result the library has had to reduce its hours and its book budget, and set two furlough days a month when the library is closed and staff members aren’t paid, Boyer said.
Interestingly, Berrien is among the counties reporting that receive the highest amount from fines, only topped by Oakland County, the second-most populous county in the state with 1.2 million residents (no information was available from Wayne County). Berrien County has around 156,000 residents.
Libraries aren’t the only recipients of penal fines, and the downward trend could be due to how the funds are being divided, Enget suggested. For 2017-18, the state distributed $24.6 million in penal fines. Of that, $24.2 million went to local libraries, and the remainder went to law libraries.
A big part of the fines come from violations at trucking weigh stations. But with state police stretched, fewer of the stations are open. Libraries receive 30 percent of the fine for a commercial vehicle, with 70 percent going to the political subdivision where the citation was issued.
Another change enacted by legislators last year will affect library funding. Lawmakers passed a bill that changed the penalty for a truck bypassing a weigh station from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction. A House Fiscal Agency analysis of the legislation stated that revenue going to libraries would be reduced as a result, with more money going to the state Justice System Fund, which supports the State Police, Department of Corrections, Health and Human Services, Treasury, and the Legislative Retirement System.
Boyer said she has contacted local legislators to explain to them how the penal fines affect library operations.
“We’re doing the best we can to meet the needs of the community,” Boyer said.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak