Ten years ago, Southwest Public Libraries faced dire straits after losing about 37% of its total operating revenue due to state cuts in library funding.

"We had to cut Sunday hours, reduce hours on other days, reduce the level of programs and materials we could provide, and cut staff," director Mark Shaw said.

Voters approved the library system's first levy in November 2010, "and that allowed us to restore most" of what had been cut, Shaw said.

The library system is seeking a 10-year renewal of that 1-mill levy with Issue 20 on the March 17 primary ballot.

"This levy will not add anything. It will simply allow us to continue to maintain the same level of service and programs we offer now," Shaw said.

Property owners would see no increase in their taxes if Issue 20 is approved, he said.

A residential property owner would continue to pay $30.63 annually, or $2.55 per month, for every $100,000 of appraised value of their property, Shaw said. Senior citizens eligible for the homestead exemption would pay less.

If renewed, the levy would continue to provide about $2.5 million, about 37%, of the library's annual operating income, he said.

"It's a sizable chunk of our total revenue, so if the levy would fail, we'd have to look at making some of the same type of cuts as we had 10 years ago," Shaw said.

The Public Library Fund from the state of Ohio provides most of the rest of the library's income.

According to estimates for 2020 provided by the Franklin County Auditor's Office, Southwest Public Libraries will receive $3,921,258 from Ohio's Public Library Fund, $2,540,724 from the final year of the 2010 levy and $269,000 in miscellaneous revenue, which includes public copier money, refunds to the library, fees for lost library materials, interest earned and donations, Shaw said.

In the decade since the library levy was approved, a new Grove City Library was constructed in partnership with Grove City at 3959 Broadway and the Westland Area Library, 4740 W. Broad St., was improved with new meeting space and an expanded youth services area, he said.

"Libraries are increasingly serving almost a community center-type of role and that's what Mark and his staff have been able to do so well in the new Grove City Library and with the improvements made at Westland," said Jeff Davis, who is serving as the library levy's campaign chairman, just as he did in 2010.

"We have a state-of-the-art modern library in Grove City and the improvements at Westland have helped bring that facility up to date," he said. "Although this levy is only meant to 'maintain' what we have, the improved facilities enables library staff to offer a wider variety of programs and activities."

Since the levy will not increase taxes, "it really provides a big bang for your buck," Davis said.

The first levy campaign offered voters a basic question of whether they wanted to continue to have a full-scale library in their community, Davis said.

"The large cuts in state funding for libraries that came out of the (2008) recession made it a critical moment for us," he said.

"The levy was going to determine the future of our library system."

Now, with the success of the first levy and the growing number of people using the library, "there's no doubt there's a lot of affection in our community for our libraries," Davis said.

"The question now is whether we want to maintain the high level of service we receive from our libraries," he said.

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