Mahoning County taxpayers, check this out: Your public library system wants to lower your taxes by $1.3 million annually.
No, Virginia, that’s not a page ripped out of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” Instead, it is the thoughtful and strategic blueprint for the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County’s campaign to secure voter approval Nov. 4 of funds needed to operate efficiently through the end of this decade.
That bold blueprint bodes well for library-levy passage. Additionally, its theme is one that other public taxing authorities in the region should consider persuing and copying to circulate stronger bonds of goodwill among tens of thousands of taxpayers.
Specifically, the library board recently agreed to place a single real-estate tax levy on the fall ballot that would generate $1.3 million a year less than the two existing library levies combined. Those local levies, which expire at the end of this year, provide 58 percent of the funding for the system’s $17.6 million main budget. An additional 40 percent comes from the state and the remainder from fines, fees and donations.
Under the library trustees’ plan, a current 1-mill levy would be allowed to vanish from the books, and voters would face a single five-year ballot initiative that would renew the 1.8-mill levy and add six-tenths of 1 mill to it to generate $9.3 million annually.
In the name of maximizing accountability and transparency to the public, the library’s director and policymakers studied their options thoroughly and determined they could live with less local revenue to carry it effectively though 2019.
After all, no new and expensive construction projects are planned after completion of a new $5 million Canfield library and a $15 million renovation of the main Youngstown library. Those projects will complete a decade-long success story of rebuilding, remodeling and repurposing the system’s network of 16 state-of-the art libraries throughout Mahoning County.
James Meehan, library trustee, aptly envisions the result of the levy decision: “We’re going to gain a ton of credibility by saying we’re going to lower their taxes.”
Of course, credibility long has been a watchword of the PLYMC. Voters have consistently rewarded the library system’s strong service and responsible stewardship over public money with rousing support at the polls. In 2009, for example, the system’s 1-mill levy won 71 percent of the popular vote.
Given that track record of success, we suspect library administrators could easily have placed both levies up for renewal this fall with great odds of passage. But library leaders decided not to play taxing games with voters just to gain an unnecessary funding cushion. They chose the high road of honesty, transparency and accountability.
In so doing, they likely have guaranteed a happy ending to their soon-to-begin privately funded campaign to pass the fall levy. Mahoning County commissioners should waste no time in putting their stamp of approval on the plan to place the library levy on the general election ballot.
As a footnote, other public agencies in the Valley should follow the library board’s script and realistically look at absolute needs versus projected expenses before proposing additional taxation or renewing property, income or sales taxes at current levels. Chances are some would reach the same conclusion as the library board and discover that tax rates could be cut without seriously cutting services.
The library board has set a fine example with its lesson in fiscal responsibility. The moral of its story is clear: Less indeed can be more — more respect, more satisfaction and more support from the public it relies on to exist.