MOUNT VERNON — The news keeps getting worse for Ohio public libraries. Gov. Ted Strickland’s state budget — not yet approved by the legislature — proposes to cut $227.3 million from Ohio public funding over the next two fiscal years.
“This will cut our previously expected revenues by nearly 32 percent,” said John Chidester, director of the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County. “Added to the 22 percent drop in state funding we were already dealing with, this is a total decrease of more than 50 percent in library funding.”
Chidester said this latest development would require vastly greater cuts than those already made. Cuts include reduced staffing, reduced hours and purchases of books, CDs, periodicals and DVDs.
“We have reduced staff by 25 percent and slashed expenditures in all other categories,” he said.
Chidester appeared before the library board of trustees last night to make his case for putting an operating levy on the ballot to help ease these cuts in revenue.
“As of the first week of June, we thought we had seen the last of the bad news,” Chidester said. “Well, we were wrong about that. According to figures from the Office of Management and Budget], it looked like we might be down by about 20 percent for the whole year. We had cut about 15.5 percent for the year and we thought we might be to the good for that for the year, but it looks like we would have to come up with another 4 or 5 percent.
“But that all went out the window with the governor’s budget. Late last Friday, the governor announced he had changed his mind about slot machines at race tracks. That was the big headline. Farther down in the fine print was oh, by the way, we are going to kill your libraries.”
The governor’s budget package calls for cutting $112.5 million from the Public Library Fund in fiscal year 2010, which begins July 1, and cutting $114.8 million for fiscal year 2011.
“This amounts to approximately 31.8 percent of what was expected to be in the PLF for those two fiscal years,” said Chidester. “We still don’t have exact figures, but my thumbnail estimate means that would eliminate an additional $218,000 from a budget that has already had the lifeblood squeezed out of it.”
He said if the budget is passed as it stands, the library would have to cut another 65 percent of staff in addition to the 25 percent already made.
Chidester presented a resolution to the board for a 1 mill levy to be sent to the county auditor. The auditor would calculate the amount of money the levy would generate, and that figure would go back to the board of trustees to either approve or disapprove. If approved, the request to have the levy put on the ballot would then go to the county commissioners.
Chidester said he couldn’t predict what figure the auditor would come up with, but he estimated it might bring in somewhere in the vicinity of $800,000.
After a short discussion, the board approved the resolution.