Voters in November will face a 1-mill levy that officials say is a do-or-die for Southwest Public Libraries.

Voters in November will face a 1-mill levy that officials say is a do-or-die for Southwest Public Libraries.

At a special library board meeting June 23, trustees approved the levy request.

The system must close one of its two remaining libraries if voters don't approve the 10-year levy, library officials said. At risk are the Grove City Library, 3359 Park St., and the Westland Library, 4740 W. Broad St.

The culprit is the recession, libraries executive director Mark Shaw said. Since 2001, state library funding has fallen from $4.5-million a year to roughly $3-million. The bulk of the library's funds come from the state of Ohio. Compared to 2001, the library is receiving $2.5-million less per year in state funding.

Officials have said the library has cut its budget as much as possible. If voters don't pass a first-ever library levy, one of the libraries will close.

If voters pass the levy, it would raise $2.6-million a year.

The money would "pretty much guarantee that both libraries would stay open, assuming that state funding isn't completely eliminated," Shaw said.

The money also would be used to restore Sunday hours, lengthen weekday hours, replenish books and audio-visual materials, and repair library buildings.

Outreach service that was cut last summer would be reinstated.

"Now, it only serves about 50 homebound patrons with books and DVDs," Shaw said. "Before the cuts last summer, we served preschools, day cares, and nursing homes in the district as well as the local Head Start program with materials and programming."

Homeowners within South-Western City Schools boundaries would pay property tax of $2.55 a month or $30.63 a year per $100,000 of home value if the levy passes. Senior citizens eligible for the Homestead Exemption would pay less.

Since the inception of state funding cuts, the Central Crossing Library was closed, outreach services were curtailed, and operating hours were cut by a third. Spending on books, audio-visual materials and databases was cut by 75 percent.

The library staff has been reduced by 35 percent, eliminating 65 positions. Employees have not gotten pay raises in the last 10 years. Starting last year, the system instituted mandatory unpaid furlough days representing pay cuts of about 10 percent.

Southwest Public Libraries is the only system in Franklin County not supported by a local levy. Bexley voters approved a new 1.5-mill levy in November. In Grandview Heights, a 2.2-mill replacement levy passed in May. Both had 77-percent voter approval.

The Columbus Public Library will be on the November ballot, also seeking property tax support. Statewide, 17 library systems have announced levies for the fall election. "There could be as many as 25 or 30 by the time the filing deadline rolls around the first week of August," said Doug Evans, executive director of the Ohio Library Council.

In Ohio metropolitan areas, "it's fairly uncommon" for libraries to operate without levy funding, Evans said. All nine library systems in Cuyahoga County have operating levies. In Franklin County, Southwest is one of seven systems. All others have local taxpayer support.

"Statewide, a little more than half have operating levies, and that's up substantially in the last two elections," Evans said.

In November 2009 and May, 42 libraries in the state won levies, raising the total of levy-supported libraries to 54 percent of the 251 systems in Ohio.

"We have seen incredible success in the last two election cycles," Evans said. "The significant success rate is among libraries asking for levies for the first time.

"The good news on tax levies is that the vast majority are successful," he said.

Southwest Public Libraries has asked voters for money seven times since 1949. The libraries were denied each time.

In 1949, a bond issue was defeated. Property tax levies were defeated in 1986, twice in 1989, in 1994 and in 1996. The last defeat, a 1-mill, 15-year levy, was in 2002.

Under state law, the South-Western school board must vote to put the library levy on the ballot.

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