By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
The Findlay-Hancock County Public Library will ask city and county voters to renew a 0.5-mill, five-year operating levy in March.
The levy generates $789,639 yearly to support the day-to-day operations of the library. It costs the owner of a home with an appraised value of $100,000 about $1.50 a month or $18 a year.
“We know every dollar is important to a taxpayer, but we think that this tax is reasonable and that we’re efficient,” said library Director Sarah Clevidence.
All Findlay and Hancock County voters will be able to cast ballots on the library levy, except those who live in the McComb and Riverdale school districts because they have their own library systems.
A few voters in Seneca and Wyandot counties also will cast ballots on the levy, depending on their school district.
Clevidence said the levy was first approved in May 2010, with 64 percent of voters approving. It offset an annual loss of about $725,000 when the state cut public library funding by 22.7% between 2008 and 2010, she said.
There has been partial recovery in state funding since then, she noted.
“There’s been some growth. We’ve gotten back some of those funds, but we’re still funded at 1998 levels. So while we have regained some of what we’ve lost, we definitely haven’t grown for inflation,” Clevidence said.
According to the Ohio Library Council, 201 of the 251 public libraries in Ohio have local levies.
Over the last 10 years, the Findlay-Hancock County library has completed some much needed capital improvement projects like paint, carpeting and maintenance. Three tutor/small meeting rooms were added, Clevidence said.
And beyond the traditional offerings — including books, magazines, newspapers, films and music — the library provides 39 public computers, high-speed wireless internet access, wireless printing, over 150,000 books on the e-book collection and special children’s computers stocked with educational software.
Clevidence said a part-time children’s outreach associate was added in May 2019. By the end of the year, she had visited 68 different groups such as schools, day cares and community events.
“I think that helps people be aware of what resources we have,” Clevidence said. “Schools and day cares can’t always bring their kids here to engage in our programming, so it’s great that she can take it out to them.”
Statistics show that the library had over 30,000 active cardholders who borrowed 1.12 million items — about 3,100 items a day — in 2019. Meanwhile, about 311,000 people visited the library — about 880 people a day — last year.
“People say, ‘Do people even go to libraries anymore? Everything’s online,'” Clevidence said.
Business has held relatively steady over the last five years, she said. However attendance at children’s programs has increased 76%. In 2019, nearly 48,000 children participated in programs at the library or at library-sponsored events in the community.
“So it’s incredible to see that growth there,” she said. “The children’s department is doing a lot to reach kids.”
Looking ahead to 2020, Clevidence said the library has been saving for some major purchases, including a new bookmobile and new boilers.
The cost of the new bookmobile is about $266,000, she said.
“We started saving as soon as we got our last one,” said Clevidence. “It was ordered in January which required a substantial down payment. It won’t be delivered until next January. It will be really wonderful though, and it lets us serve all those smaller parts of our county. We know not everyone can easily get in here.”
Clevidence noted that the levy renewal has nothing to do with purchasing property next door on Broadway.
“Would we like to expand someday? Absolutely, but this levy is for operating our current library, what we have right now,” she said. “We are going to use that money to run this library.”
If the renewal request isn’t approved, some adjustments would have to be made, Clevidence said.
“Our largest expenditures are staff and materials, so if the levy doesn’t pass we’ll live within our means which means we will probably have to cut some of those things,” she said. “That’s going to mean fewer of the items you want are here for you to check out, and there would likely be fewer hours for you to come and get them.”
She said some cutbacks had to be implemented between the time state funding was cut and before the levy was first passed 10 years ago.
“At that time, we were not open on Thursdays and we had reduced hours the other days,” she said. “But we’ll be fiscally responsible and live within our means, and our community can tell us what kind of library they want to have. We hope it’s a strong one that offers seven days a week service.”