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Issue 20 asks voters whether to boost levy for Hamilton Co.'s public library system

The Walnut Hills branch of the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library.
Becca Costello
The Walnut Hills branch of the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library.

The region's acclaimed library system is asking taxpayers to chip in a bit more to meet what it says are rising costs and declining state support when going to the polls Nov. 7.

The Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library is funded via two separate county property tax levies. The one up for renewal is for 1 mill. The library's board of trustees approved an increased ask in July that would add another .5 mill to that, costing property owners a total of about $43 a year per $100,000 of property valuation if approved.

The levies bring in about $20 million each for the library. If Issue 20 fails, the library would lose one of those two revenue streams.

The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber has come out in opposition to the increase, saying it the library did not consult the business community and that the boost will place a greater tax burden on county residents.

Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library Executive Director Paula Brehm-Heeger says costs for the library have gone up as state funding for Ohio's libraries has dwindled.

RELATED: With Issue 19, voters will decide on levy renewal — without an increase — for Cincinnati Zoo

Money from the Ohio Public Library Fund provides 57% of the library's operating funding. Many systems across the state rely on more local funding.

The state funding source has been shrinking, Brehm-Heeger says.

"Over the course of the last decade, they have been generally trending down," she says. "They're unpredictable. We really need to have stable and consistent funding. These dollars are about making sure that's possible."

At the same time, some of the library's expenses are increasing as the way people read changes. E-books have become incredibly popular. But the business model behind them isn't favorable to the library, Brehm-Heeger says. That's led to long wait times for some of the library's most popular items.

"We used to buy the content — I could buy a paperback copy of a James Patterson book for $5.99, put in circulation and people could check it out until it fell apart," she says. "E-books, we don't own that content and in most instances the publishers have licensing agreements that charge libraries at a rate that is higher than the retail price. And many publishers have built in an expiration date on the licensing. After one to three years that content may expire and we have to re-purchase it."

RELATED: Soaring E-book checkouts are worrying libraries

There are other expenses to consider, library leaders say. The library is tackling a variety of capital needs at its 41 branches. It recently renovated its Deer Park location and 116-year-old Walnut Hills branch and is in the midst of a major update to its flagship Downtown location. The library notes it hasn't taken on debt for those projects.

The levy up for renewal represents about 21% of the library's budget. Voters first passed it in 2009. Another levy not up for renewal approved by voters in 2018 provides money mostly for those capital improvements.

Ohio's general election is Nov. 7. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 10. Early voting begins Oct. 11. More on early voting opportunities at the Ohio Secretary of State's website.

Library levy ballot language


RELATED: Your guide to voting in Ohio's November election

A Majority Affirmative Vote is Necessary for Passage

A renewal of one (1) mill and an increase of one half mills constituting a tax for the benefit of the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library for the purpose of PROVIDING FUNDS FOR OPERATING EXPENSES AND CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS, that the county auditor estimates will collect $30,878,000 annually, at a rate not exceeding one and one half mills for each one dollar of valuation, which amounts to $43.00 for each $100,000 of the county auditor's appraised value, for (10) years commencing in January of 2024.

Updated: October 25, 2023 at 4:10 PM EDT
This article was first published on Oct. 20, 2023.
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