Note: The post below is about the 2009 levy. To read about the new 2013 Bexley Library levy request, go here.
As writers and readers already know, tough economic times are creating hardships for many of our best public library systems. I'm blessed to have two world-class libraries where I live--the Columbus Public Library and, in my small hometown, the Bexley Public Library. The Columbus Library is frequently rated as the best large library system in the country, while the Bexley Library has previously been rated number one in the nation among smaller library systems.
Unfortunately, recent state budget cuts have forced the Bexley Library to seek a levy, as detailed in this Columbus Dispatch article. The 1.5-mill levy, which will be on this November's ballot, would cost the owners of a $100,000 home in Bexley about $46 more per year in taxes.
Today I asked Robert Stafford, director of the Bexley Public Library, a few questions about the levy and the library's budget problems.
The article mentioned the library would "continue to look to shave costs amid uncertain state revenues" even if the levy passes. Is it possible to list what these cuts might cover? Will additional staff be cut, or are you looking at cutting hours or other services?
Robert Stafford: Part of the problem in determining the millage to be requested is the uncertain state revenue projections which provide the basic support for the library. We have tried to ask for a levy amount that will bring the library operating budget back up to the 2008 level. The latest projection that we have seen is that Bexley Public Library will receive $1,351,677 in 2010. The library received approximately $1,856,000 in 2008, but more than that in 2007. The revenue from the proposed levy would not allow for an expansion of services. Even after the passage of the levy, if there is a great decline in state revenues, we would still have to make cuts. The problem with all this is that nobody really knows about future state revenue (and thus basic library support) but we still have to set a levy amount that is not too low, and not too high. The Cuyahoga County Public Library is already in this position. They recently passed an operating levy, but the decline in state support is causing them to have to make cuts after just passing a levy.
Besides reducing library staff from 35 to 27 since 2003, what other belt-tightening measures has the library already enacted?
Robert Stafford: Besides reducing the staff size to the lowest possible level to cover 70 open hours per week, we have reduced expenditures for library materials, i.e., books, magazines and audiovisual items. In 2009, we will probably spend only about 1/2 of what we spent for materials in 2008. Most of our belt-tightening has been in staff and new materials purchases. We have never spent a lot for programming and publicity.
Why does the library allow anyone from Franklin County to check out library items? Would this change if the levy passes?
Robert Stafford: All public libraries in Ohio are required by law to provide service on an equal basis to all the "inhabitants" of the county in which the library is located (5705.28 (D) Ohio Revised Code). This is because the basic funding comes from the State of Ohio and is distributed at the county level through, in our case, the Franklin County Budget Commission. When public libraries were originally formed, they were funded entirely by the local district. When library districts pass a levy or a bond issue for construction, these (supplemental) taxes are on the local district only. To that end, most of the other library districts in Franklin County have an operating levy, the annual yields of which range from $789,000 in the Grandview Public Library district to over $20,000,000 (2.2 mills) in the Columbus library district. Bexley's 1.5 mills would yield $689,279 per year. Many Bexley residents use the Columbus library facilities, including the Columbus Main Library (under the same law quoted above), but, until now, have not been asked to pay an additional library tax.
My local libraries have always enriched the lives of my entire family, so I'm supporting this levy. I hope other Bexley residents will do the same. As Robert Stafford explained above, this is an issue which affects people all across our county. So while money may be tight for everyone, don't let this great community resource be destroyed.