Ohio Public Libraries are lobbying lawmakers to keep funding levels stable and reject a plan to change a funding formula that provides nearly half of all money used to operate 251 library systems at across the state.
On the face of it, that doesn’t seem like a lot — cutting state funding for the Public Libraries Fund from 1.7% to 1.66% of Ohio’s general revenue fund — but it would be a 22 million over two years, according to the Ohio Library Council.
Data on how that $22 million would fall on each library system was not available, but the Columbus Metropolitan Library estimates it would see a reduction of $1.5 million over two years.
The board and five of the state’s largest library systems testified this week against the proposed cut in funding. If lawmakers cut libraries’ share of the local government fund to 1.66%, libraries estimate they will receive $871 million over two years. But if it is set to the current rate of 1.7%, they will get $893 million.
Besides lending books and materials, libraries are community centers that offer internet access, homework help, job search assistance, literacy programs, meeting rooms and more.
About 48% of all library money in Ohio comes from the Public Library Fund and 50 of the 251 library systems are entirely dependent on it since they have no local property tax levies.
How would the cuts impact Stark County Libraries?
Local library managers are concerned about their budgets.
The Stark District Library estimates it could see $450,000 less in public funding over the next three years.
It’s unclear what that would mean for the library’s more than $18 million annual budget, but officials say it will impact services. The library has no plans to cut staff.
Stephanie Cargill, director of communications for the library system, said the decrease in funding is definitely impacting materials and services and the number of people they can serve.
For example, Stark Library has 300 Wi-Fi hotspots available for loans. A percentage of these devices are intended for use by school districts with students and staff working remotely.
“In our county, 17% of households do not have Wi-Fi access in their homes and approximately 11% do not have computers (at home),” Cargill said. “We were hoping to increase these access points for more access for students to do homework or homework, for those who need access to do things related to work and life.”
Massillon Public Library Director Sherie Brown isn’t panicking about the state’s latest budget forecast, but she is worried.
“We don’t know what the actual dollar impact will be, but we do know that our expenses continue to increase,” she said.
For example, Massillon is budgeting $2,000 a month for Hoopla, an online streaming service that lets customers borrow movies, books and music. Last month they spent $4,000.
They have also hired an additional staff member to deliver supplies to housebound residents due to record numbers of people using the service, she said.
“Our costs aren’t going down and the costs keep going up,” Brown said. “Not every drop is good news.”
The Massillon Library’s 2021 budget is $2.77 million, including $1.3 million from state funding.
Impact on Rodman Library in Alliance
Eric Taggart, director of the Rodman Library at Alliance, worries about the long-term impact of the cuts.
Reducing library funding over time equates to deep cuts, he said.
“In 2008 we got 2.22% of general income. In 2009 when we went through the great recession, we got 1.97%. We’d love to have that now, but what “If there’s another recession and we keep backing off? That puts us in a really bad spot.”
Taggart doesn’t want libraries to be more dependent on local funding.
“We (libraries) have been fortunate enough to be able to adopt levies with some success, especially those in smaller communities like ours, but at some point they have a breaking point. library, they can’t afford to pay for it.”
State funding is essential to guarantee services.
If the trend continues, Taggart fears that libraries in affluent areas will supply more than those in economically disadvantaged areas.
“No matter where you live in Ohio, you should have a high level of library service,” he added. “I just don’t think that’s the way it should be.”
Any impact is hard to tell now, Taggart said, adding that the Ohio Department of Budget Management provides an estimate each year to local libraries.
Only once in the past seven years has the estimated amount been correct, he said.
OLC Director of Government and Legal Services Jay Smith said he hopes lawmakers will reject the cut proposal and stick with the current 1.7% formula.
Libraries have yet to use their most powerful weapon of political pressure: 8.4 million users.
“We haven’t really gone all out and issued a call to action,” Smith said. “Libraries respond quickly when we issue a call to action. I don’t think we need to show up at the Statehouse and jump up and down just yet.”
OLC Director Michelle Francis told lawmakers this week that public libraries in Ohio are not in line to receive $170 million in federal funds through the US bailout. Instead, about $200 million in federal funds will be split among libraries nationwide. The Ohio State Library will receive about $4.5 million to be split among college and K-12 libraries, prison libraries and public libraries, she said.
The State Budget Bill is pending before the Senate Finance Committee. A final version that the House and Senate agree on is expected to pass by June 30. The state fiscal year begins July 1.
Freelance journalist Amy L. Knapp contributed to this report.