Farmington Library board settles on employee benefits

With split votes, Farmington Community Library trustees on Tuesday extended benefits and accrued time off for 82 furloughed employees.

In making the furlough decision, which became effective April 24, trustees agreed to continue paying for employee health insurance. Both the Farmington and Farmington Hills libraries have been closed since March 14 due to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) safety concerns.

On Tuesday, trustees continued reimbursements to eligible employees for vision, dental, hearing, and life insurance, allowed employees to continue accruing paid time off and sick leave during the furlough, and extended a “use it or lose it” policy by six months.

Trustees took action on paid time off accrual, because furloughs are not specifically addressed in the employee handbook. The cost of maintaining benefits is an estimated $20,000 every six weeks.

Most trustees said maintaining benefits would send employees a positive message.

“I am of the opinion that if there is not a substantial cost to continue benefits, that’s a show of good faith,” trustee Bob Hahn said. “It sends a message that we value employees.”

Conserving capital

Trustee Bill Largent voted against both measures, arguing that the furloughs were approved “out of a fiduciary responsibility and out of respect for the hardship that people paying taxes are experiencing.”

“At this point, we don’t know what the future holds,” he said. “As an employer for 40 years, I appreciate the importance of morale, but I also understand the importance of conserving capital. This violates the intent of what we did.”

“Not allowing time to accrue doesn’t seem like that is going to fix the problems we have,” board president Jim White said. “It’s just a kick in the teeth to people we’ve already put out. It doesn’t make any sense to take it away.”

About 50 people tuned into Tuesday’s electronic meeting, with a handful speaking during public comment.

‘We need books in our hands’

Farmington Hills resident Mary Beth Klawender said that Livonia Public Library already has information about its virtual summer reading program posted online. She said most of the resources the library now offers are databases or electronic.

“The library’s about building relationships with the community, it’s not about building relationships with Hoopla or Tumblebooks.com,” she said. “The best relationships are built with librarians. Other libraries have done this.”

Becky Brunner said a large part of her family’s life in the community is walking into the building, getting books, and being part of the library’s programming.

“We want the library to open safely… but we need books in our hands,” she said.

Farmington Hills resident Sue Burstein-Kahn said she runs a nonprofit that is also facing difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This has to be run like a business,” she said. “You can only pay those who can continue to work and provide a service… beyond that, we gotta hope that our governor and all of those officials who supposedly have all the answers make the right decision and get everybody back to work.”

White said library staff is looking into curbside service and other ideas for expanding services.