Toledo-Lucas County Public Library officials say they have been made aware of a possible major crisis for Ohio’s public libraries.
TLCPL Oregon Branch manager Mary Beth Gratop is among those librarians state-wide urging local residents to put pressure on the Ohio Senate to pass House Bill 318.
According to the Ohio Library Council, this proposal would postpone the final cut in the state income tax. Although this proposal means that Ohioans will not pay any more state income taxes than they did in 2009, it will provide enough money to the state to balance the budget next year, a TLCPL press release states.
The TLCPL has already been impacted by an 18 percent cut from the Public Library Fund when the state budget was approved earlier this year.
Nearly half of the library’s funding is generated from state dollars, the other half from property tax dollars. A recent 30 percent reduction in state library funding, coupled with a drop in property tax valuations, has caused a drastic $7.4 million shortfall for 2010.
“Cuts in Ohio's budget have already been severe,” said the TLCPL press release. “Public libraries are only one example but, as you know, most libraries have had to cut hours, lay off staff, close branches, reduce materials, and a variety of other measures that have limited your access to important library services.
“This is also true of local governments that have experienced cuts for police and fire and other essential services. No one has gone unaffected by the state's budget cuts.”
Gratop said, “Just across the board all the libraries are really worried with this bill. We don’t exactly know how it will affect us. On the branch level, our concern is how it will affect us if it doesn’t pass.”
According to the OLC, without Senate support of HB 318, more cuts to libraries and other important Ohio services are on the way. Public libraries, along with local governments, K-12 schools, higher education, children’s services, and social service agencies would be severely affected.
Gratop spoke to the Oregon-Northwood Rotary Club about the issue at its weekly breakfast explaining how her branch has already had to cut hours, cut staff, cut its book budget, and the library’s meeting room is no longer available to the public in the evenings.
“Our book budget has been cut so we don’t have as much materials,” Gratop said. “It could be worse. We’ve had a few people write letters to our director about the hours because they are upset we’re not open 9-9 anymore here.
“Sundays are hard, and closing at 5:30 on Wednesday through Saturday is hard on people. The meeting room is a difficult situation I feel bad about, but nobody has come in and screamed and yelled. I think they are adapting.”
Gratop is closing in on her 30th year with TLCPL, spending much of her career at East Toledo’s Locke Branch before transferring to Oregon.
Gratop and other librarians are hoping the Senate approves the bill soon, because Congress will be heading for recess soon. The bill is out of committee and Gratop believes the vote could happen any day.
HB 318 is the latest legislative effort to balance the state’s biennial budget. That now appears to be a major problem for libraries, for it would have to become law by December 31.
TLCPL Director Clyde Scoles held an impromptu news conference last week in the Huntington Room of Main Library on Michigan Street to help get the message across.
Scoles said that all Ohioans need to “band together now” and he is urging all library patrons and Lucas County residents to contact their Ohio Senators immediately.
TLCPL has begun a massive campaign, including a graphic on the library system’s website that can forwarded to state senators. A complete list of Senate e-mail addresses and phone numbers is posted on www.toledolibrary.org
“In fact, the main library has sent to all the Lucas County Branches signage, so we’ve put signage up all over. We have information we can give out from our home page,” Gratop said.
“If the State Senate does not pass the bi-partisan House Bill 318 by the time the Senate recesses, it will result in further cuts that will dramatically impact Ohio’s ability to recover from this struggling economy,” said Scoles. “No action by the State Senate is absolutely unacceptable. House Bill 318 will provide enough money for the state to balance the budget next year.”