With operating levy renewals to be placed on the May ballot, Lorain Public Library System (LPLS) officials hosted a “State of the Libraries” presentation at the Avon branch library Oct. 27. The purpose of the meeting was to inform patrons on the system’s financial state due to dwindling state funding.
“Within the next year, we’ll ask voters to approve three renewal levies: one in Lorain, one in Sheffield Lake and one in Avon,” LPLS Director Joanne Eldridge told audience members.
For Avon, the system is asking for a 1.2-mill renewal and for Domonkas, a 2.2-mill renewal.
“In this difficult economy, we must ask voters to support their local libraries because libraries are in peril,” Eldridge said.
Cuts at the state level are hitting libraries hard, she said.
“Ohio has implemented double-digit cuts in library funding every year since 2008, and state monies account for more than half of our total revenue,” she said. “LPLS is receiving almost $2 million less now from the state than it did at the peak of state funding in 2001, and even with the benefit of cost-sharing that comes with being a system of community libraries, the hours and services available at our libraries rest increasingly in the hands of local taxpayers.”
Foreclosures and property value reductions haven’t helped either, Eldridge said, adding they’ve reduced the levy revenues.
Eldridge said last year Gov. Ted Strickland proposed cutting $227 million of library funding. Ultimately, $84 million was eliminated.
As a result of state cuts , Eldridge said, “To maintain the same hours, materials and services we now provide, communities will have to think about paying more.”
During the presentation, Chief Fiscal Officer Jim Wilson gave a brief overview of library funding in Ohio. In 1983, the Library and Local Government Support Fund (LLGSF) was created at 6.3 percent of personal income tax. In 1993, the earmark for LLGSF was decreased to 5.7 percent.
In 2008, LLGSF changed to the Public Library Fund (PLF) and the earmark was set to 2.22 percent of total tax revenue, according to Wilson. In 2009, the PLF was cut 11 percent and the earmark was reduced to 1.97 percent. For the 2010 year, Wilson said the PLF was cut by 23 percent.
“The state’s current estimate for the PLF distribution in 2010 totals $344.9 million,” Wilson said. “Just two years ago, that was $450.6 million.”
For 2010, LPLS originally projected close to $7 million in funding would come from the state, according to Wilson.
In actuality, the system will receive almost half of that – $3.38 million, he said.
“Local funding is now the predominant funding force,” Wilson said. “We don’t know at this point what the state will be providing for 2011.”
Looking back to 2007, he said LPLS dedicated approximately $2 million of its state funding to the library branches for new materials, programs and services. This year, he said that amount has dropped to $400,000.
“For each community, we have less money to spend,” he said. “We have stretched our resources as far as possible.”
While LPLS is receiving less money from the state, patron use of library services has been at an “all-time high,” Eldridge said, from computer use to resume writing.
More people than ever are accessing LPLS branches, Toni Whitney, LPLS assistant library director, agreed.
“Last year, we had nearly 1 million visitors and circulated more than 2.5 million items – a 30 percent increase over five years ago,” she said. “We had 84,000 patrons holding library cards and, over the past five years, card holders have increased in every community we serve.”
Specifically, in the last five years Avon cardholders have increased 20 percent, while Domonkas has increased 4 percent.
“You will be asked to shoulder more of the burden if you want to maintain the same hours, materials and services that you now have,” she said. “The alternative is simply less of everything. We can provide you with economy of size and shared resources, but we can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat – we can’t provide the same level of services with less money.”
At the end of the presentation, LPLS officials fielded questions from the audience.
“Will that actually raise more money that what it did in the past?” one man asked of the Avon library renewal levy.
Wilson said the renewal levy wouldn’t bring an increase to taxpayers.
“If there is some growth (in Avon), we’ll see some growth on additional construction,” Wilson added.
A female audience member asked, “Do you think of yourselves as competing with school levies?”
She added that some people debate between voting for the schools or the libraries when issues are on the ballot at the same time.
Eldridge said libraries and schools are important for the viability of the community.
“We think they work in tandem,” she said.
“We are hearing a very resounding, ‘No new taxes.'” She said. “I hope that in your heart you can support both.”
“State funding has been slashed so much,” Whitney said of funding for schools and libraries.
“It would be beyond devastating if we lose the levy next year,” Eldridge said.