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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Libraries Waiting to Hear News About State Budget

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, February 6, 2005

Librarians are sitting on the edge of their chairs this week. Governor Taft will release his recommendations for the next State Budget following his State of the State address this week. This promises to be the most difficult state budget that Ohio has experienced in 30 years.

Escalating costs for Medicaid combined with a lackluster economic recovery for Ohio have combined to paint a dismal picture for the state budget. Every state agency, every organization related to the state budget, and all local governments are concerned.

Public libraries in Ohio are funded as part of a Local Government Fund, which receives 5.7% of the state income tax. This began in 1986, when the previous tax for libraries was repealed by the Legislature and incorporated into the state income tax. That fund has been frozen since 2002, and reduced to redirect funds into the state general fund.

There are 3 Local Government Funds in the state budget, providing monies for villages, cities, townships, counties, and public libraries in Ohio. They were established in part due to the 1972 legislation, approved by voters, providing for the collection of a state income tax.

One guess about the next state budget is that those Local Government Funds will continue to be frozen, reduced, or eliminated completely to help balance the state budget.

Of the list of governmental units funded by Local Government Funds, public libraries receive a most of their operating funds from those monies. Ohio is unique in the funding of libraries.  In other states, libraries are part of another local government unit or operate as independent agencies with taxing authority.

Due to a major rewrite of the Ohio Revised Code in 1933, Ohio's public libraries are independent agencies under the taxing authority of another local government unit, with a dedicated tax for operations. The current fund even contains an "Equalizing Factor" that was leveling out the funding of libraries all across Ohio, and promoting resource sharing among Ohio's 250 library districts before the freeze.

Libraries are part of the state budget; the state has long-since repealed the former tax and incorporated it into the state income tax, so here we are.

Libraries in Ohio are used by an increasing number of citizens, as information is obtained from a number of sources. Our own library system had 6,000 library cardholders in 1962; today that number is 40,000 in a county in which the population has declined.

State agencies routinely refer citizens to public libraries for forms and information that was formerly available from those agencies.  A truck delivered the cases of state income tax forms to our library for distribution, and the supply will likely not last until April 15.

Our library system has already reduced staff by 10 percent, and reduced operating hours.  Less new materials are being purchased for the public use. Public libraries are quickly becoming the "final frontier" for Ohio's citizens, the last agency with human beings on a local level who will answer a phone and locate information.

I hope this week will bring news that allows public libraries to continue our mission of service to Ohio's citizens.