Portage County libraries hope to restore funding through levy

Anna Duszkiewicz

After significant budget reductions that caused staff layoffs and program and hour cuts this year, the Portage County District Library has put a levy on the November ballot in an effort to restore some of the funds.

The proposed levy, listed as Issue 6 on the ballot, is a half mill, 10-year operating levy. That works out to about $15 per year for a $100,000 property, or $1.25 a month.

“For the price of a cup of coffee each month, you can get a lot more value by passing the levy and having access to the materials and resources that the library provides,” said Cecilia Swanson, director of the Portage County District Library system.

If the levy passes, the library will:

&bull Add back hours of operation at every branch.

&bull Buy more library materials and more copies of high demand titles.

&bull Bring back more programs for children and youth.

&bull Resume providing online resources for research and downloadable content for mobile devices.

&bull Resume delivery to daycare centers and the Express pickup boxes around the county.

If the levy passes, the library system will be able to purchase more materials, extend hours of operation, hire more staff and provide more children’s programs, Swanson said.

She said the library system is not looking to expand through the levy.

“We’re not looking to build new buildings,” she said. “We just want to cover the cost of day-to-day operations and restore hours of operation that we’ve cut, start buying new materials again and bring back staff to serve the public.”

Voters in Kent and Ravenna will not be deciding on the issue because the cities have independent libraries. However, Swanson said the levy will still affect Kent and Ravenna residents because the libraries share materials with Portage County District Library branches.

“It will help all three libraries if we are able to buy the materials we used to buy and share them,” she said.

The Portage County District Library includes the cities of Aurora and Streetsboro, the village of Garrettsville and Brimfield, Randolph and Windham townships. Voters in those regions will decide on the issue.

Ohio libraries are funded by the Public Library Fund. This fund has been declining since 2001, Swanson said. In 2009, library funding was down by 20 percent from 2008, said Linda Rogers, fiscal officer for the Portage County District Library system.

After the state’s biennium budget passed this summer, library funding was trimmed by another 11.3 percent, Rogers said.

Since the budget reductions, the library system has cut staffing levels by 31 percent, according to the library system’s Web site.

The system has also cut back on children’s programs and stopped taking classroom materials to area daycare centers.

The system has been using donations to purchase new materials, but Swanson said libraries can’t rely on donations in the long term.

If the levy does not pass, Rogers said the most difficult part will be keeping library materials up to date.

“In order to function as a library, we need to have books and other materials,” she said.

She said it is too soon to see the impact of purchasing fewer materials.

“It will be more obvious as time goes on, and people aren’t able to get the newer materials that they’d like to borrow,” Rogers said.

System wide, the library has reduced hours of operation across the system by about 30 percent this year, Swanson said.

The demand for library services is high, and the reduced hours are hurting the community, Swanson said.

According to the library system’s Web site, the Portage County District Library issued more than 3,000 new cards in 2008 and circulated more than 66,000 items to those new card holders.

“It is important to be open more hours to serve people,” Swanson said. “It’s important to be open for children when they need help with their homework. I think there’s a lot that has been taken away.”

Swanson said it’s crucial that libraries are available during tough economic times.

“We’ve been seeing more and more adults who come in and use the resources of the library to search for jobs and to create resumes because they can’t afford to own those resources,” she said. “We help people learn how to use computers, then give them free access to the Internet and word processing programs. I think we’re saving people money and also allowing them to improve their own lives. Improving their economic standing will improve the community at large.”

Swanson said if the levy does not pass, the library system will continue to operate at the current reduced level, provided no further funding cuts are made.

Efforts to pass a library levy in the past have failed, and this will be the first one on the ballot since 2004.

Contact public affairs reporter Anna Duszkiewicz [email protected].