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Libraries brace for fund cuts
Libraries across the state are bracing for funding cuts.
Libraries are funded by 2.22 percent of the taxes that Ohio collects each year, and the state is projected to collect 20 percent less than last year.
In response, libraries have begun to shorten operating hours, reduce acquisitions and dismiss staff.
Pickerington Public Library did all of the above plus added a levy to the November ballot.
But as libraries "scrambled to accommodate the 20 percent reduction," they were suddenly dealt a more "devastating" blow, Bexley Library Director Robert Stack said.
On June 19, Gov. Ted Strickland proposed an amendment to the state budget that would cut an additional $227.3 million from library funding in 2010 and 2011.
Instead of a 20-percent reduction, the libraries would receive a 50-percent reduction.
The Ohio Senate and House will decide on the budget by June 30 for it to take effect July 1. If the legislature approves the governor's proposed amendment, Stack said many libraries will not survive.
"It was certainly a shock to all of us," Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML) Director Patrick Losinski said. Reynoldsburg has a branch in the Columbus Metropolitan Library system.
"(I wondered) if the governor really understood what a 50-percent reduction over what we had in 2008 (would mean). Frankly, I thought initially that it was a mistake."
Stack said the effects could be devastating.
"Nobody can operate on half their budget," Stack said. "Why were we selected to take a bigger hit?"
He said in Bexley, "The only solution would be to cut hours and staff so dramatically you wouldn't even recognize the place."
Bexley's operating expense is $1.8 million. If the Governor's proposal becomes law, the library would place an operating levy on the November ballot.
Stack estimates that Bexley would need to raise about 1.5 mills to replace the $900,000 cut by the state.
Pickerington Library Director Suellen Goldsberry said it is too late to increase the millage of Pickerington's 0.75-mill levy issue that, if passed, would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $29.93 per month.
"Libraries are too valuable to let this transpire," Goldsberry said. "They will literally close."
Kim Snell, media relations director with the CML, said although its levy will last through 2010, the library system still depends on the state for half of its income.
"If this (budget cut) happens, it means some drastic measures will have to be taken," Snell said. "Hours and programs will definitely be cut and we will close multiple branches. The most frustrating thing is that people are using the libraries more than ever for the free services."
The job help centers located in each branch have helped a total of 8,500 people search for and apply for jobs since January, Snell said.
Many of the branches have served as community gathering places after recreation centers closed, and many people have turned to the libraries rather than renting videos or shopping at bookstores, Snell said.
Across the state, library supporters formed a coalition called Save Ohio Libraries to spread word of the proposal and organize protests against it. Most of the libraries have links to the cause on their home pages.
"If people don't know about it, they can't do anything about it," Snell said. "We welcome the opportunity for our customers to contact their local state legislators."
Losinski said millions would suffer if the proposed cuts are approved.
"We had 8 million visitors last year, and I think many of them are stepping up and letting their senators and representatives know what their opinions are," Losinski said.
Libraries are asking patrons to contact their senators via e-mail or fax.
"Snail mail" will not reach them in time, Goldsberry said.
The government gave us "very little time to have any impact on this whatsoever," Snell said.
Maggie Ostrowski, spokeswoman for Ohio Senator Tim Schaffer, said the Governor's proposal addresses a "$3.2 billion shortfall in the state budget, but at this point nothing has been decided."
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