Voters in the Delaware County District Library system will be asked in November to approve a 1-mill renewal levy that won’t raise their property-tax bills.
The issue is a renewal of the same operating levy that has been in effect for the past 10 years. It costs property owners about $38 annually per $100,000 in home valuation and is expected to raise about $5 million this year for the system, which includes libraries in Powell, Orange Township, Delaware and Ostrander, according to library director George Needham.
Delaware County commissioners certified the issue for the ballot July 19.
Needham said the levy would allow the library to pay off its branch in Orange Township and replace the Powell branch’s building within two years. Built in 1993, the Powell branch, at 5,000 square feet, is considered too small for the area.
The library system also receives $2 million annually in state public-library funds.
County Commissioner Jeff Benton on July 19 said although commissioners are obligated to certify the issue because it was approved by the library board, he thinks the 1-mill amount is too high.
He said it would be better to reduce the millage to 0.8 or 0.9 mill. Each 0.1 mill of potential reduction would reduce the levy’s cost by $3.80 annually per $100,000 of home valuation.
Benton based his view on the library’s cash reserves of about $17 million.
While he said he loves the library and praised the efficiency of its administration, Benton said he would be “remiss in my responsibility to our residents if I didn’t share the concerns I have about this particular ballot question.”
He said library revenue would decrease by $500,000 a year for each 0.1-mill reduction to the levy. The system still would have ongoing surpluses and “with this $17 million on hand could easily weather a change in millage.”
Existing property-tax rollbacks would remain in place if the millage were reduced, he said.
He added the library’s surplus is likely to grow to $19 million by year’s end.
By Dec. 1, 2019, he said, the library could pay off its $6 million debt without penalty. That would save more than $200,000 a year in interest and about $575,000 a year in debt service, he said.
Among other factors, Benton added, the library uses a low projection of 0.6 percent annual return on its investment portfolio, while the county’s return is 1.69 percent; the library projects 2018 property-tax revenue to be lower than that collected in 2017; and an audit shows the library had a 27 percent or higher budget surplus from 2014-16.
Needham said he and Benton have discussed the library’s finances.
The library board has adopted a very conservative policy, Needham said, and “much of what we’ve saved is intended to pay off the notes for the Orange branch library. Since that conservative stewardship has gone forward and we do have the reserve that we do, we will be able to move forward quickly with the new branch for the Powell-Liberty Township area.”
The library “will review where we are with our bond counsel who helped us last time,” he said. “There may be opportunities for changing our investment policy to get a higher rate of return. ... In order to do what we need to do in Powell, I think the board really thoroughly considered this and feels comfortable with the request that they’re making.”
He also cited a recent survey that indicated a majority of those questioned were happy with what they pay for the library.
“Your comments will help us think sharper about the money as we go forward,” he told Benton.