By DAVID DUPONT & JAN McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Libraries as trying head off funding cuts before they pass the state legislature.
Action on Gov. John Kasich’s budget is months away, and as State Sen. Randy Gardner said during an open forum Saturday, that much can change while the proposal is being worked over in the Legislature.
Gardner was speaking in the Wood County Library, which like all libraries in the state could stand to lose money under the governor’s budget.
The budget calls for a reduction in the percentage of the state revenue fund devoted to libraries. The general revenue fund consists of sources including income and sales taxes.
Libraries have received state aid amounting to 1.7 percent. That was a temporary increase in the last budget intended to make up for drastic cuts suffered by libraries dating back to 2008. That included a mid-year cut in funding in 2009 during the Strickland Administration, just as the recession was starting.
In a letter to the community (http://bgindependentmedia.org/update-on-library-funding-michael-penrod/), Wood County Library Director Michael Penrod, said that the increase to 1.7 percent in the last budget “allowed for some modest growth in dollars distributed to public libraries.”
With no action from the legislature that percentage would roll back to 1.66 percent, a $7 million cut in state funding for libraries, according to Michelle Francis, , director of government and legal services for the Ohio Library Council.
Gardner indicated he is not inclined to see that happen. “I have gravitated to the library cause over the years,” seeing all the services they provide in communities, he said.
Because the amount libraries receive monthly is determined by the revenues the state is receiving, figuring out how much the cut would cost the Wood County Library is difficult, Penrod said.
He did point out that the state’s projections have been falling short. This year libraries were expected to get $389.5 million, but received $377.6 million.
Back in 2008 before the recession, Francis said, the state’s libraries received $418.2 million. Given the economic realities, she said, libraries are simply asking that funding not be cut.
She noted that 58 of the state’s 251 libraries rely only on state funding. The Wood County library is not one of those. It has a local property tax levy as well.
Gardner said that he believes if he polled local residents about what they value most in their communities that libraries would rank at or near the top.
Library provide a range of services, and demand for those services increases when the economy falters, Francis said.
Libraries are places where Ohioans can go to search for jobs and polish their resumes. They offer literacy classes, and Internet access. At tax time, patrons come in looking for information and to use the library’s computers to file their taxes.
Francis said the state has a long tradition of state support for libraries, something that’s not true in many other states.
That’s shown in the high usage rates – 8.7 million Ohioans have library cards. And every dollar spent on libraries, she said, generates $5 in economic activity.
Funding cuts can mean reduced hours, and a reduction in staff. Those hurt most, she said, would be taxpayers.