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|04-03-03: Local governments, libraries worry about
|By TIMOTHY COX and SEAN RICE
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
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
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,
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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