Delaware County voters will be asked May 5 to approve what Delaware County District Library officials call its first levy.

Delaware County voters will be asked May 5 to approve what Delaware County District Library officials call its first levy.

If it passes, the 10-year, 1-mill library levy would cost the owner of a home valued at $200,000 for tax purposes an additional $61 a year in property taxes. It would raise $4.7-million a year for library operations and building a new 30,000-square-foot branch library in Orange Township.

It also would pay for expanded hours of operation at the main library and in Ostrander and renovations to the Powell branch. Some money will be used to replenish cash reserves that have been depleted in recent years.

The levy will be on the ballot in all areas of the county except those served by the Ashley Wornstaff Library and Sunbury's Community Library.

"We realize this is a new tax for our constituents. ... We struggled a long time before asking the (county) commissioners to put it on the ballot," said Mary Jane Santos, DCDL director.

The economic downturn that is hitting most county households also affects the library system, she said.

The library, which receives 94 percent of its funding from the state Public Library Fund, hasn't seen an increase in that revenue since 2002 when funds for all public libraries were frozen, said Don Yarman, assistant director. Funding remained frozen at $2.6-million until 2008, when it dropped to $2.03-million. This year the state reduced funding for the Delaware system again, by 14.8 percent to $1.88-million, despite the county's continued population growth.

The library's budget for 2009 is $2.4-million.

For the past couple of years the library has been using reserve money, Santos said, but those funds are about gone.

Without the money from the levy "the library will not be the same as it is now," Santos said. Not only would the Orange Township branch not get built, DCDL would have to reduce the operating budget by nearly $700,000.

The Orange Township branch is needed to serve the growing population in the southern part of the county, Santos said.

"We've been promising that part of the county a new library since 2004 but couldn't afford it. We know they won't be using Worthington, Westerville and Dublin if they have one in their back yard," she said.

The new library would duplicate the services of the main library, Yarman said. The building would have a large teen and children's area, and 40 public computers. DCDL plans to have laptops that people can use in comfortable seating areas. The building also would include a community meeting room, a drive-up window, a self-check-out system and ample parking.

The Powell area is full of young families, Yarman said, and most of the circulation is in children's materials. With the levy money, DCDL plans to renovate the Powell building, turning a room that is used primarily for story time sessions into more space for the children's section.

"We want to be more flexible," Santos said.

The Ostrander branch is now open four days a week and plans call to expand that to five or six days if they levy passes, with more consistent hours, she said.

That branch also sees a lot of use by teens so library officials plan to launch some youth programs, such as homework assistance, if the levy passes.

The library also plans to expand the outreach program that serves the homebound, nursing homes and schools.

"We're hoping that people understand the value we provide to them when they cast their votes," Santos said.

cpreston@thisweeknews.com