By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
U.S. Representative Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) stopped by the Addison Township Public Library June 3, to learn more about the library’s new building project.
In April, the congresswoman selected the project as one of ten from Michigan’s 8th District to the House Appropriations Committee to be considered for Community Project Funding for $500,000.
“You guys did an extraordinary job with your application,” Slotkin told the library board members who greeted her outside the library’s current location at 1400 Rochester Rd.
Her office received over 100 entries of community projects, but Addison’s library stood out because it had over 100 letters of support included in the application. “We just want to make sure that we get a project that really has community support, that isn’t just someone’s pet rock,” she said.
Being from a small town herself, she understands rural communities are often overlooked for resources by cities and suburbs. “It’s extremely important to me that our smaller, rural communities, particularly in Oakland County, get the resources that they need,” she said.
If approved, the half-million dollars would get the library the rest of the way to its $1.3 million goal to build a new 5,000-square-foot facility directly across Rochester Rd. from its current location, on a donated 3.8 acre property between Milmine Road and Cantley Street. The Twp. Planning Commission approved the new library’s site plan, under certain conditions, at its May meeting. The plan is expected to come to the township board for final approval in the coming months.
Jaema Berman, the library’s director, gave Slotkin a tour of the current library, which occupies a 3,000-square foot space inside a small strip mall that used to hold a party store. “I have to say, for being in a (former) party store, it’s a pretty significant library,” Slotkin said. “I didn’t know what to expect, knowing it was in a quote ‘temporary location’ for a decade, and it’s pretty amazing.”
Berman talked about what the library was like during the pandemic and crucial internet resources it provides, like loaning out iPads with hotspots and providing tech support.
Slotkin said she has fond memories of her library while growing up in Holly, and that libraries are especially important in small towns. “It becomes the center of community. It’s where you see other people, it’s resources, it’s taking you outside that small community and giving you a window of what is around in the world. So, my experience with that drives me to be really supportive of libraries. I’m a big fan of what they can do . . . we want to support that any way we can.”
Back in Washington, Slotkin will advocate for the project to be included in the appropriations budget. A draft bill will come out in the fall to be voted on in December. “I basically have to be as loud and squeaky and noisy as possible to get the funding that I want for my projects,” she explained. “That’s what’s going on right now is advocacy. Then, in the fall we’ll get our first look at what we think is in the budget. . . If we don’t make it in, I’ll be able to fight again and try to put my finger tips in there and hold on.” If it is approved in December, the funding could come as early as February or March of 2022.
Visiting the library in person was an essential part of the process for her. “When you’re trying to decide on money thousands of miles away, the ability to come here and see it matters. You know, to be able to advocate and say no, no, this isn’t just a library in a small community, you should see how motivated they are and what a center of community it can become. It just helps me fight for it that much harder.”
During her visit to Addison Township, the congresswoman also toured Downtown Leonard (where she learned about the village’s need for a new sewer system), the Polly Ann Trail and the Addison Township Fire Department, and took a boat ride on Lakeville Lake with Township Supervisor Bruce Pearson.
She was impressed the fire department does not rely on a fire hydrants because it lacks a municipal water system. Instead, the department must rely on tanker trucks and draw from nearby natural water supplies to fight fires. “They don’t have the infrastructure that a lot of our bigger communities have, so they have to keep this community safe at a really difficult time without the infrastructure.”
Besides the Community Project Funding she is working on for the library, she talked with local officials about how to fight for the resources they need, noting Michigan is about to receive billions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan that Congress passed in March. “A lot of that is going to our counties and so this is a once in a generational time to actually apply and push for our small communities to get real money that they frankly haven’t really seen since the last recession.”