Tuesday, June 04, 2002

Library may seek tax levy

Supporters criticize state funding formula

By Anna Guido
Enquirer Contributor

        WEST CHESTER TWP. — In 19 years, the public library has expanded twice to accommodate the growing population.

        That time has come again.

        However, with no more room to expand, library and township officials plan to ask voters in West Chester and Liberty townships to help pay for a new library large enough to last more than 19 years.

        “We all agree that we need a new library, we're just looking for an equitable way to pay for it,” West Chester Township Administrator Dave Gully said.

        A bond issue for construction and a levy for operating costs are likely, but no decision is expected until after township trustees review results of a community survey on June 25.

        Built in 1983, the 15,000-square-foot West Chester Libraryis a branch of the Middletown Public Library system. “Right now we're at the point where we can't add as much as we'd like in the way of new materials and services,” branch manager Steve Mayhugh said.

        “We'd like to increase in size to about 70,000 square feet, with room to expand to 100,000 square feet. It's a big jump, but this is something that we want to last.”

        The West Chester Library's circulation has kept pace with population growth in the West Chester/Liberty area, home to Greater Cincinnati's second-largest school district.

        The library's circulation growth averaged 7 percent each of the past few years, placing it second after Cincinnati/Hamilton County's main branch as the busiest library in Southwest Ohio.

        Libraries that serve communities similar in size and demographics average 80,000 to 100,000 square feet, Mr. Mayhugh said.

        The Middletown library system's main source of revenue is $5 million annually from the Library and Local Government Support Fund, which is derived from state income taxes.

        A 1999 Enquirer analysis of state library funding revealed that the fastest-growing of Ohio's 88 counties received the least amount of state money for libraries. Butler County was the 12th-fastest-growing county in Ohio but 73rd in per-capita library funding at $25.60 per person.

        Hamilton County, on the other hand, was 82nd in growth and No. 1 in per-capita library funding at $52.13 per person. The state average was $33.42 per person.

        Middletown Public Library Director Doug Bean said the problem is a state funding formula, which was drafted in 1986.

        “The goal was to eventually bring every library up to the same level of funding on a per-capita basis,” Mr. Bean said. “But the formula that was supposed to do that has not worked the way it was intended.”

        Butler County's per-capita library funding now is $37.61, and Hamilton County's is $62. The state average is $43.73.

        “We still feel very strongly that there needs to be more equity in the distribution of state funding for libraries,” Mr. Bean said. “However, we're trying to look ahead, and we're trying to build a fine library for West Chester — we're being progressive and trying to make do with what we have.”


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