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04-03-03: Local governments, libraries worry about funding
The Daily Standard
    Local governments would suffer and many area libraries would be forced to shut their doors if state lawmakers proceed with plans to eliminate the Library and Local Government Support Fund from the state budget, local officials say.
    A substitute budget bill that could be introduced in the Ohio House would eliminate the funding stream effective Jan. 1, 2004. If approved, it would drain nearly all of the funding from most local libraries and would also leave village, cities and counties searching for a way to make up lost revenue.
    St. Marys Community Public Library officials predict they would have to close their doors at the end of 2003, along with 175 or more other libraries statewide, if the state funding is not preserved.
    "Our library receives no money from local levies. We rely substantially on the LLGSF to finance our operations," St. Marys library Director Susan Pittman said.
    St. Marys library officials met Wednesday with state Sen. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, and state Rep. Derrick Seaver, D-Minster. Bob Maurer, treasurer for libraries in St. Marys and Rockford, said the legislators said they would be against eliminating the state assistance.
    But state Rep. Keith Faber, R-Celina, said while he does support the need for local government assistance money, he thinks libraries should be prepared to shoulder some more of the financial burden locally. Faber said it is "highly, highly unlikely that anybody is going to do anything to shutter libraries."
    He also criticized some groups for reacting to a "phantom substitute bill," that has not even been formally introduced yet.
    The Ohio Library Commission has suggested local libraries organize a grass-roots campaign to bring attention to the issue. If the public can keep pressure on lawmakers to look elsewhere for budget-cutting measures, the commission believes the funding change can be averted.
    Pittman said any action against the budget bill must be done immediately. Legislators could vote on the proposal as early as Wednesday, she said.
    The St. Marys library has pre-printed postcards available that people can buy to send on to their state legislator.
    "We need participation from our patrons," Pittman said.
    The Library and Local Government Support Fund is funded through the state's personal income tax collections. By law, 5.7 percent of state tax collections go into this fund. In 2001, that meant $496 million for local governments and libraries. In 2002, the total was $457 million due to decreased tax revenue.
    In addition to the LLGSF, two other local government funds have been onthe table for adjustments.
    Combining all three local government funds, local municipalities received in 2002: $1 million in the county general fund, $462,539 in Celina, $191,000 in Coldwater, $83,200 in Fort Recovery, $80,500 in St. Henry, $45,500 in Rockford, $18,200 in Montezuma and $13,800 in Mendon.
    Also Mercer County's libraries received $1,669,389 in assistance from the state, with many relying on the state for more than 90 percent of their funding.
    The Mercer County District Library system, including Celina, Chickasaw and Mendon, received $1,059,000 in 2002. The Rockford library received $230,000, Coldwater's library received $280,000 and Fort Recovery's received $100,000, Mercer County Auditor Mark Giesige said.
    If the state money cannot be saved, local libraries would have no choice but to pass a levy or close their doors, Maurer said. About 176 of the state's 250 library districts rely almost entirely on state revenue to survive, he said.
    Getting a levy effort ready by November also would be difficult, Maurer said, and any such tax issues could compete on the ballot with a number of school levies likely to appear in November.
    Information compiled by the Ohio Library Commission says the typical library would have to pass a 2.38-mill property tax levy to replace state funding that could be lost. Counties would have to raise sales taxes by 0.25 percent or so, and cities and villages would have to raise income taxes by 12 percent to make up the potential loss in revenue.
    Faber said he favors a budget proposal that would remove or reduce the local government fund by allowing local governments to keep inside property tax millage that now goes to the state. Any gap in financing could be made up with local tax issues, he said.
    Giesige said if local government funds are removed and the inside millage is distributed, the county and villages would still stand to lose nearly half their funding streams.
    "This idea of no new taxes is a shell game, because if they cut local government monies, it's going to force new taxes locally, or serious cuts to valuable services," Giesige said, adding that the county has seen a $400,000 loss already in interest income and a 22 percent insurance increase. "There are trying to balance their budget on the backs of local governments."
    "I am not against the local government fund. I am for reducing it, controlling it and making it a stable fund," Faber said.
    Some lawmakers question why the state should send revenue to communities with surpluses, Faber said.
    "There are many here who believe that for many communities, the local government money is a luxury," he said.


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