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The Suburbanite
  • Editorial: Library needs community’s support

  • Tena Wilson, executive director of the Stark County District Library, uses two adjectives that aptly describe the library system: strong and lean.

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  • The issue: Issue 42 on Nov. 6 ballot
    Our view: State funding continues to be slashed, but library still is innovating
    Tena Wilson, executive director of the Stark County District Library, uses two adjectives that aptly describe the library system: strong and lean.
    “Strong” refers to the ability of the library’s Main Branch and nine other branches to serve nearly 160,000 card-carrying patrons with resources that meet their ever-changing information and entertainment needs.
    One telling indicator of the system’s success is the 2009 National Medal for Museum and Library Service — the nation’s highest honor for libraries — awarded for the local library’s “innovative approaches to public service, exceeding the expected levels of community outreach.”
    The library has long been known for innovation, from resources for job-hunters to shared facilities with other institutions (Stark Parks, Lake Local Schools). Among the most recent “innovative approaches”: the Innovation Center, a high-tech training facility that businesses can rent and nonprofits can use at no cost; and a reading group for moms and children that’s designed to ensure that third-graders aren’t held back a year in school under a new state law.
    “Lean,” on the other hand, refers to money. In case you’re not aware of how serious the financial challenges have become:
    • Less than a decade ago, state government financed 93 percent of the library system’s operations.
    • Now the state funds just 53 percent.
    Stark County voters gave the library overwhelming support in 2004 when it asked for its first-ever local money. Since then, however, the impact of the modest 1-mill property tax has been diluted by the continued decline in state funding.
    Ohio’s tangible personal property tax, which for 75 years provided most of the money that libraries needed, was eliminated in 2008. And the Public Library Fund, which originally equaled 2.22 percent of the state’s total tax revenue, was reduced to 1.97 percent in the 2010-2011 budget and to 1.67 percent in the current budget.
    The Stark County District Library is reaching out again for help. The Repository editorial board endorses the library’s 1.7-mill levy on the Nov. 6 ballot.
    One mill continues the current funding; only 0.7 mills is new. This levy was to provide $8 million a year over its eight-year life, but because property valuations have dropped, the amount has dropped to $7.3 million.
    Still, it will enable a library system that has made substantial cuts — closing of the Southeast branch, layoffs, deferred building maintenance, delayed technology purchases — to recover much lost ground.
    The Stark County District Library needs support from this community that it does so much to support. We urge voters to approve Issue 42.