Although the board of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County was reflecting the wishes of the county commissioners when it decided to seek renewal of the 1-mill county-wide levy rather than an additional tax, it was the right decision.
With the country just beginning to come out of the economic recession that hit a year-and-a-half ago, and with residents of the Mahoning Valley struggling to make ends meet, now isn’t the time for the public sector to be asking for more money from the taxpayers.
Indeed, even the renewal of levies aren’t guaranteed this year. Things are difficult in the private sector workplace and there is scant support for giving government money to operate.
The library system has its work cut out for it even though the 1-mill levy has been on the books for many years. The arguments for passage are many and compelling, but there is a lot of voter cynicism and mistrust.
Therefore, between now and the November election, the administration and the board of the public library must be willing to make the case for continued funding of this important service for the educational and intellectual well-being of the community, and for the county’s quality of life.
Yes, in this instance, it is appropriate to judge the book by its cover. The cover is the library system that serves a declining population but has an increasing circulation. From 1970 to 2008, the number of people living in Mahoning County dropped from 303,424 to 248,931, yet the lending of books, CDs and the like is up 23 percent since 2000; the number of users has increased by 30 percent; Web site traffic has skyrocketed 293 percent, and over 1 million people visited the system in 2008.
But the key argument that can be made in persuading voters to approve the 1-mill levy renewal centers on finances. The system has no debt, but financial challenges have arisen as a result of state government’s slashing $1,566,579 in funding from the biennium budget. In addition, the system is losing $135,000 in interest income. State revenue is expected to drop another $684,000 next year.
It is for this reason that the library board last month passed a resolution to seek a $1.7-mill levy consisting of a 1-mill replacement levy and 0.7 additional. That total would have generated $6.87 million annually, compared with the $3.07 million a year that the 1-mill brings in.
However, given that the county commissioners have ultimate say on placing the issue on the November ballot, it was clear there was little support for a 1.7-mill levy. There will be other tax renewal issues before the voters.
The cuts in state funding already have had an effect on operations. Library hours have been reduced 15 percent, resulting in the loss of about one day a week of library service at each branch.
But while the argument for the levy renewal can easily be made, there are detractors who will argue that the system needs to be streamlined more and costs reduced to reflect the county’s declining population and the fact that many young people have personal computers to access online library services.