Library levy failure disappoints patrons

Alison Lucci

The fate of six Portage County libraries remains unknown after a tax levy on Tuesday’s ballot failed to garner enough support among voters.

Issue 6 was a 10-year, 0.5-mill levy that would have cost taxpayers, excluding those in the Kent and Ravenna school districts, $15 per year for a $100,000 home. The money would have helped restore many of the cuts the library system has sustained since the decline in state funding.

“We were hoping the levy would pass so we could restore the cuts we’ve seen,” said Cecelia Swanson, district library director. “Obviously we’re not going to see that happen.”

Swanson, who was on a five-day furlough during the week of the election, said she’s unsure of what will happen to the county’s libraries. She said the district’s future depends on the amount of state funding and the decisions made by the library’s board of trustees. The board meets on the third Thursday of each month.

“Basically, what I see in the immediate future is that we will continue limping along and providing as much service as we can on our limited budget.”

This summer, projected state budget cuts forced the district to consider closing the Streetsboro, Randolph and Windham branches, leaving only the Aurora, Brimfield and Garrettsville branches in operation. The idea of library closures makes patrons like Robin Watson a little uneasy.

“This is like the only entertainment we can get that doesn’t cost anything,” she said.

Watson and her husband visit the Brimfield branch about four times per week. Though they often leave with books, the couple frequents the library because they do not have a computer or Internet access at their home, which is about one-fourth of a mile away. While Watson surfs the Web for recipes and book reviews, her unemployed husband searches for work.

“If the [Brimfield] library closes, we’d have to go to Kent, which would use more gas,” she said. “I probably wouldn’t go to the library that often then. And I read every night so it’d really disrupt my routine”

Watson is a regular at the library, but she isn’t too familiar with the polls. The Brimfield resident said she did not vote on Tuesday because she never registered to vote. Watson chose not to vote, but the children in Portage County couldn’t vote, even though their library use was also at stake.

Brimfield librarian Karen Posard said many patrons asked if children’s programs would be restored if the levy passed. Posard, who has worked in the district libraries for 15 years, said the programs were popular in the community. The children’s librarian was one of two positions at the Brimfield branch eliminated because of budget cuts.

Swanson said the nine management and non-management positions that were cut in August will not be reinstated. Remaining managers have taken a pay cut in the form of 10-day furlough.

“We were hoping that people would recognize the importance of libraries and understand the funding cuts that we’ve received, but at the same time, it’s a tough economic climate, Swanson said. “I was disappointed that it didn’t pass, and I’m disappointed on behalf of the people who voted yes and who wanted better libraries.”

Contact public affairs reporter Alison Lucci at [email protected].