Why does the Library need a levy?
For the first time in its more than 150 year history the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County is considering asking our community to contribute to the Library’s funding through a local property tax levy. Most people think the Library is funded by Cincinnati or Hamilton County when in fact we get no funding from either one. Many others think we receive local tax funding, but we don’t. More than 86% of our funding comes from State taxes and in recent years the amount of State funding received by the Library has dropped dramatically. This is a direct result of the State economy – there simply isn’t as much income at the State level so funding for public libraries has decreased. By the end of 2009 we now expect the gap between our income and operating costs to be more than $10 million!
Annual State funding began to decline in 2001. Rather than asking for a levy immediately we made some cuts to our Library’s services, reducing hours by 10%, cutting staff by more than 100 positions and postponing or canceling capital projects. After an initial drop of about 9%, funding was frozen for several years then dropped sharply again starting in late 2008. Currently, our State funding is about 20% less than we received in 2000. We simply cannot afford to continue operating our outstanding Library without additional income.
Throughout this tough financial time, Library use has continued to grow at unprecedented levels. Already one of the Top 10 Circulating Libraries in the country, our Library saw circulation grow by more than 700,000 to an all-time high of 15.8 million in 2008. Reference questions, visits to the Library, and program attendance also grew in 2008. Our computers are in use all day every day, and our Main Library was recognized as the busiest Library building in the country. Not only is our Library one of the busiest in the U.S., it’s also one of the best, ranking in the top 10 among public libraries serving 500,000 or more in Hennen’s American Public Library Ratings for the third consecutive time.
Although we’re barely into 2009, demand isn’t slowing. Checkout of materials is already up 250,000 through March. Yet our funding continues to drop. Without the additional income a property tax levy would provide we will be forced to make additional cuts including reducing hours, cutting staff and closing branch libraries. Libraries are more crucial than ever for those who need access to our public library for free library materials, programs, computers for job seekers and children and teenage homework centers. We simply cannot allow our Library’s services to be reduced at a time when the need for our services is greatest.
The Cincinnati Enquirer recently reported that the Library is considering a tax levy this fall. A clarification on information included in that report is available on our website.