At the polls next month, voters in Delaware County will be asked to renew a levy that, for 10 years, has been critical to the success and growth of the Delaware County District Library (DCDL). The levy, at the same rate of 1 mill, would be good for 15 years and won’t include any type of increase to residents’ property taxes. It would, however, continue the library system’s biggest and most stable revenue stream.
“Having the stability of the levy means we can do long-term planning. We can really think about where we’re going to be … we can grow with (the county), instead of always having to play catch up,” said George Needham, library director.
The levy, at around $5 million, makes up two-thirds of the library’s budget with state funding providing around $2.2 million.
Needham said the 15-year duration of the levy would allow the library to finish paying off the 25-year bank notes for the Orange Township branch, which was opened in 2011.
County Commissioner Jeff Benton, at the July 19 meeting to certify the issue for the fall ballot, cited the library’s reserve fund of over $17 million as the main reason why he felt the 1-mill rate was too high to ask for in the renewal. Benton suggested reducing the millage to 0.8 or 0.9.
Needham told The Gazette that surplus in the reserve fund is in place to be able to pay the notes for the Orange Township branch to prevent foreclosure should the levy fail to pass. Should the levy pass, that continued revenue, along with the reserve fund, will allow for the opening of a new branch in the Powell or Liberty Township area.
Of a potential millage rate reduction, he said it was considered briefly by the board, but “to do what we need to do for the long term, lowering it would decrease our ability to be able to respond the way we’ve been able to as the growth in the county has occurred.”
He added, “If we were to cut that back to, say, 0.8, what the owner of a $100,000 home would be saving is about two frappuccinos a year. I understand Commissioner Benton’s responsibility to watch the taxpayers’ dollars … in this case, the savings we would have made for any individual homeowner is less than the cost of a DVD for the collection each year, and it didn’t seem like a good trade-off to the (DCDL) board.”
Needham speculated that once the new branch in southern Delaware County was up and running, the library would then be operating on a reserve fund that could carry them through six months to a year. The necessity for that amount, Needham pointed out, is that in the event the library was to have to shut down, there are still things such as unemployment and equipment contracts that would still need to be paid out.
Locations have been discussed for the potential new branch, but Needham said no decisions would be made before the levy money can be relied upon. The existing Powell library branch on South Liberty Road is owned by the library, and the land lease from the city still has 75 years remaining on a 99-year contract. Needham said they would continue to operate it as a “library station more than a full-fledged library” if a new branch is built.
While libraries were once simply a source for book rentals, Needham hopes residents understand just how much more libraries offer than a high volume of books selections, such as their support for OhioMeansJobs and access to Lynda.com, which offers courses and training on all types of careers.
“What we try to do in each of our libraries is have a variety of programs, for both kids and adults, that brings people together from all over (the county)…. Libraries used to be about collections, now they’re about connections,” he said.
There is cautious optimism from DCDL the levy will pass, given recent votes and the fact the levy is a renewal and will not change residents’ taxes. According to Needham, the track record for library levy renewals in Ohio has been strong. In fact, Needham said a renewal with a specific year limit on the levy hasn’t failed in Ohio since at least 2009. “I don’t want to be the first,” he said, adding, “We’re not taking anything for granted.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @ddavis_gazette.