Stark County Commissioner Janet Weir Creighton made it clear Wednesday she did not believe that the additional 2.2-mill levy that the Stark County District Library was requesting should be without an expiration date.

CANTON  Stark County commissioners voted Wednesday to place an additional, continuous 2.2-mill levy on the Nov. 6 ballot to fund the Stark County District Library's current expenses.

Commissioner Janet Weir Creighton made her positions clear: She approved the measure because state law required it, not because she supports the tax hike.

She said she had an issue with the levy being permanent.

"I have had constituents call me, and they are very concerned about it being a continuous levy," Creighton said.

Creighton said the Stark County Prosecutor's Office told her that as long as the levy request, previously approved by the library district's board, meets the legal requirements, the three commissioners are required to place it on the ballot.

"This is not either an endorsement or a denial by this board in any way. It is doing our statutorily required duties according to Ohio law," she said. "I think our biggest concern is that this is a continuous levy."

If approved by voters, the issue would raise $11.02 million a year and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $77 a year, according to the Stark County Auditor's Office.

Library officials said if the new levy passes, they would seek to cease the collection of the library district's current 1.7-mill levy, which expires in 2019 and raises $7.9 million a year. It costs the owner of a $100,000 home $47.62 a year.

The net increase for this homeowner would be $29.38 a year. The net increase in revenue for the library district would be $3.12 million a year.

Library cites need

Mary Ellen Icaza, the Stark County District Library's new CEO and executive director, attended the meeting, her third day on the job. So Jean McFarren, the deputy director who served as the interim executive director, answered commissioners' questions.

McFarren cited the Ohio General Assembly's reductions in the percentage rate of state income and sales tax revenue allocated to libraries.

The Stark County Auditor's Office in May said the state in 2013 provided $6.4 million from the Ohio Public Library Fund to the Stark County District Library. It was $6.25 million in 2014. That funding reached a peak of $6.89 million in 2015 and was $6.8 million in 2016 and $6.86 million in 2017.

"The funding structure for libraries has changed. That is not a temporary change; that is a permanent change. And we need a permanent solution to that," McFarren said. "And I have to say that I think the resources that are spent on campaigns and passing levies could be much better spent and the time and the energy and the effort could be plowed back into the library and to folks supporting the work of the library rather than supporting the work of getting the levy passed once again and once again and once again.

"Regardless of what time frame we put on this, we would be coming back to the voters over and over and over. We have no other choice. That is where the funding comes from."

State law prohibits spending public funds to promote the passage of a proposed levy. Often, supporting residents will form a campaign committee and solicit private contributions to finance the campaign.

McFerrin said other library districts, like North Canton and Canal Fulton, are supported by permanent levies as part of a "growing trend" of library districts around Ohio.

Creighton said, "I believe you go back to the constituency every eight years and ask for a report card. ... Because when you give continuous, it's pretty hard to take it off. But when you are on your toes and have to justify every eight to 10 years ... I think it makes us all sharper."

The library district includes the school districts of Canton City, Canton Local, Plain Local, Tuslaw Local, Fairless Local, Perry Local, Jackson Local, Lake Local and Osnaburg Local. The district has a main library in downtown Canton and nine branch libraries that serve these districts.

More questions

Creighton asked what would happen if voters don't approve the proposed levy.

"We're not going to close the libraries, but we are going to operate on 50 percent less," McFarren said. "So when you think about your household budget if it gets cut by 50 percent, you have to cut everything."

Commissioner Richard Regula said the library would have the option of seeking to renew that levy rather than asking for a higher amount.

Tom Cecconi, the former CEO of Mercy Medical Center, is chairing the "Vote Libraries" levy campaign. He pointed out that the current 1.7-mill levy, which generates about half of the library district's revenue, provides the same amount of money that it did shortly after voters approved it in 2012. And the library's costs go up every year.

"It's not an unreasonable amount of money to be asking for going forward as far as a percentage kind of increase," he said.

Stark County Administrator Brant Luther asked McFarren for a specific, detailed spending plan for the additional $3 million a year. She replied it would be spent on current expenses, continuing to provide services and improvements to its buildings. Later, she said the additional levy dollars would also be spent on more books, materials and access to information, covering increased costs and to offset any state cuts.

She said the library district does not yet have a capital plan where the district has defined the scope of building improvements or the estimated costs. She also said the district had not developed a specific plan on how it would spend the additional $3 million.

McFarren said the district plans to move forward with construction of a new Jackson Township branch even if voters reject the levy.

She said the library board was asking for another $3 million a year based on an assessment of future needs, adding that the library is seeking to provide services in the future when it's not clear how people will access information.

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