Governor Kasich introduced the Executive Budget March 15, and as expected, it includes a proposal to further reduce State funding to public libraries. The reductions total 5% resulting in a loss of an additional $1.9 million dollars in annual State funding for our Library.
I’m sure everyone reading this message is aware of the extent of cuts public libraries have already sustained. State funding over the last decade has dropped by 30%. Over the same decade, Library use has increased by 23%. To continue operating with severely reduced funding, the Library has implemented cost savings measures including the $1 million a year realized with the reorganization of the Main Library. We have reduced staffing and hours, doubled overdue fines, and postponed or cancelled capital projects. To further stretch our dollars, the Library has sought out additional partnerships and collaborations with government agencies, nonprofits, media outlets, and area businesses. Even with these measures we would not have been able to keep all 40 of our branch libraries open without the new tax levy funding Hamilton County residents so generously supported.
Funding Up, Usage Down
At the same time funding was rapidly declining, more and more people have been using the Library, checking out books, accessing computers, using our job support resources, and attending programs. Demand for Library services over the past 10 years has grown more than 23%.
We understand the difficult financial position of the State and appreciate the efforts to keep public library funding cuts to a minimum. While we are relieved that the proposed cut to State Library funding is not greater, we cannot absorb this additional funding loss without further reductions in Library services. If the legislature adopts a budget that incorporates these public library funding reductions, we may be forced to merge branch libraries, reduce hours or make other cuts that impact our community. We simply cannot spend money we do not have.
The introduction of the Executive Budget is only the first step in the process. Both the House and the Senate will debate and ultimately pass budget bills. As of this writing the House has not yet drafted its budget bill. We are anxiously awaiting this bill to see what is proposed for public libraries. After passage in the House, the budget bill moves to the Senate. Once both chambers have passed a budget bill, any differences between the two will be decided by a conference committee. We expect the budget to be in place by July 1 and possibly earlier.
We will be present at budget hearings making sure our legislators know how crucial State funding is to the operation of our libraries. We may call upon you to write or call to express your support for public libraries and we hope you will.
Should our State funding be further reduced, be assured that we will do everything possible to keep our services accessible, affordable and available to all Hamilton County residents. We are committed to offering the very best in Library service and will do everything possible to prevent further reductions to public library funding.