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'Everything is on the table' at library



Published: Wed, April 13, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The library stands to lose $490,000 in state funds in 2006.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Cuts in state funding could result in a major overhaul of The Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, its director said.

"Everything is on the table," Library Director Cartoon A. Sears told The Vindicator on Tuesday.

Among the potential library cuts, Sears said, are:

UConsolidating and closing some of the system's 17 library branches.

UA huge cut in the purchase of library materials, such as books, videotapes, DVDs and CDs.

UReducing hours of operation.

UEliminating some library programs.

URaising the fees for organizations to use library meeting rooms.

ULaying off employees. This option isn't likely, and there aren't plans to cut staff, Sears said. But nothing is untouchable, he said. The library has reduced its staff the past two years from 210 to 198 workers through attrition, he said.

Taft's proposal

Gov. Bob Taft proposed a cut of 5 percent to libraries from the state's Library and Local Government Support Fund, the main funding source for libraries in Ohio. The state Legislature is expected to approve the proposal.

That cut translates into a $490,000 annual reduction in state funding to the Youngstown and Mahoning County system in 2006.

The state cut the library fund in 2001, resulting in a $900,000 annual decrease to the local library system, Sears said. The $490,000 cut in 2006 would be on top of the state money already taken from the library system.

The state fund provides 83 percent of the library's annual budget of about $12 million.

The state revenue sharing fund comes from Ohio's collection of personal income, and business and utility taxes.

The governor also wants a 21 percent personal income tax cut over five years beginning in 2007 so the library could lose even more state funds in future years because the library and government fund pot would shrink, Sears said.

Taft has said the state is in an economic crisis, and his tax reform plan would make Ohio more attractive to companies looking for business locations and help retain those already here.

Regarding the library and local government fund, Taft told The Vindicator last month: "We've protected it from cuts in the past, but we can't do it anymore."

Libraries in Ohio would lose $22 million in 2006 under Taft's plan.

Looking for change

The Youngstown and Mahoning County library system closed its North Lima and Lowellville branches last year.

The system is looking at other changes to its branches, Sears said. If significant changes aren't made, the library could face a deficit by the end of next year, he said.

Under consideration is the consolidation of the North Jackson and Lake Milton branches into a new building; consolidating the Struthers and the Youngstown Brownlee Woods branches into one; and closing the Youngstown North branch and merging it into the main downtown library by adding space.

Closing some branches to save money could permit other branches to increase its hours of operation, Sears said.

The library board will also consider renovating the Campbell and Sebring branches, and replacing the Youngstown East and South, and Canfield branches.

A study of 500 registered voters in Mahoning County contacted by telephone in early February showed that a majority agreed with the closings, consolidations, renovations and replacements with the exception of the Canfield replacement.

The library board, which meets Thursday, will also have to decide what to do with a 0.6-mill levy that expires at the end of this year, and brings in $1,235,830 annually.

The levy was first passed in 1976, and because of the state reduction factor formula, the average homeowner pays only 0.247 mills. For a home valued at $100,000, the levy costs less than $9 a year.

The library board could choose to place a renewal levy on the November ballot, place a replacement levy for 0.6 of 1 mill that would more than double the amount of money it collects, or seek a 1-mill replacement/additional levy.

The survey conducted by Triad Research Group Inc. of Cleveland showed that there is support for all of the proposals, but there is a "fair amount of anti-tax sentiment among voters."

The library has been resourceful in raising money, Sears said.

"But there's no way it can make up for the [reduction] in state money," he said.

Library meeting room fees have brought in $59,000 since 2001; a bookstore at the Poland branch has raised about $22,000 since November 2003; debit cards for use in printing from the system's public computers raise about $54,000 annually, and fines and fees -- the amounts were raised two years ago -- brining in more than $200,000 annually.

skolnick@vindy.com




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