Kent Free Library seeks operating levy

Alison Ritchie

Kent voters will decide in the November election whether or not to provide local funding for the Kent Free Library.

The library will place a $1.8 million operating levy on the ballot for the first time ever.

Stacey Richardson, Kent Free Library director, said state budget cuts left the library with little choice.

“We have never gone to the public and asked for operating expenses,” Richardson said. “This is the first time in 108 years that we’ve had to ask the public for help. [Funding] has been continually decreasing over time. It just got to a point where we’ve cut out all of the things that we could possibly cut from our budget without it drastically affecting our service.”

The levy is continuing, meaning it would stay in place until the library decides to consider a different levy or removes it. If the levy passes, it would mean an additional $4.72 per month in taxes for Kent residents with homes valued at $100,000 or more. For residents with homes valued at $150,000, it would be an extra $7.08 per month. That would bring in an estimated $884,000 a year to the library.

“It’s a pretty modest expense if you consider that it’s less than the price of a paperback book, a few songs on iTunes or going to a movie for the night,” Richardson said.

Kelly Dempsey, a Kent resident and library patron, said she wouldn’t mind the additional expense.

“This institution is too important to let lack,” Dempsey said. “Something as simple as a little extra money for it is worth it. It will always be worth it.”

The library currently receives 95 percent of its funding from the state’s Public Library Fund. But over the past several years, that fund has shrunk by nearly 30 percent. That decrease has forced the Kent Free Library to make cuts.

In 2006, the library’s revenue was about $1.8 million. Last year, its revenue had dropped to nearly $1.3 million.

Less than 3 percent of the library’s funding comes from overdue fines and printing charges, and the rest comes from gifts and donations.

Richardson said in order to compensate for the decreased funding, the library has reduced the money it spends on books, CDs and DVDs by 50 percent. She said staff members who retired were not replaced, and the library’s hours were shortened from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to the current hours of 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday.

Emily Johnson, 22, of Kent, said she wishes the hours were more flexible. She said she visits the library to read and check out books about once every two weeks.

“It’s unfortunate that they’re closed on Sundays during the summer,” said Johnson. “That’s when I’d rather go.”

Richardson said if the levy passes, the library would return to its normal hours of operation, increase the amount of money it spends on purchasing new items, and reach out to community schools. It would also reinstate its homebound service, where the staff transports materials to Kent residents who can’t come into the library.

The Kent Free Library is not the only library tightening its budget. Financial cutbacks have strained libraries across the region. Libraries in Ravenna, Stow and Akron already have operating levies in place, and the Portage County District Library is seeking a levy this November.

In last May’s special election, 16 of the 17 library levies on ballots throughout the state passed. Richardson said those figures made her optimistic about her own library’s levy.

“In a time of a recession, like now, the library is irreplaceable to many families,” she said. “We’re hopeful that people will be able to look at the library as a valuable resource in our community. We feel that people in the community will be able to look beyond their immediate need and see the greater good for our community.”

Contact city reporter Alison Ritchie at [email protected].