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Athens County voters have a number of local levies on the ballot at the Nov. 5 general election, including a 1.2-mill replacement levy for the Athens County Public Libraries.

This five-year property tax levy updates a current 1-mill levy that’s expiring. According to a pro-levy website (www.athenscountyloveslibraries.com), the replacement levy (not to be confused with a levy renewal) is needed because the state’s share of library support has not kept pace with rising costs over the past five years.

Before the Great Recession hit in late 2008, public libraries in Ohio received nearly all of their funding from the state’s Public Library Fund (PLF). However, under the financial weight of that recession, the state cut the PLF by around 30 percent, the pro-levy website states. That resulted “in drastic cuts at libraries across the state and layoffs and reductions in hours and services at the Athens County Public Libraries.”

Local voters passed the current expiring levy in 2014 to make up for the lost state funding. However, since then, according to the pro-levy website, “state funding has remained relatively flat (with only slight increases in PLF and no likelihood of increases in the near future) while the cost of operations for the library continues to increase.”

As a result of this situation, the website argues, “the current 1-mill levy is no longer sufficient to cover the library’s operational expenses. Financial projections indicate that at the end of a five-year term, a 1.2 mill levy will maintain library operations in their current state and leave the library in the same financial situation as it is now.”

As far as what it will mean in terms of property taxpayers’ obligations, the current 1-mill levy costs the owner of a $100,000 property around $2.65 per month. The 1.2 mill replacement levy will cost the owner of a $100,000 property approximately 85 cents per month more (for a total of $3.50 per month).

The website makes the argument that the Athens County Public Libraries system has done a good job of stewardship with its public funding over the past five years. The system has restored hours that it cut after the recession hit in 2008, while increasing community programming and services, and upgrading library facilities.

In addition, levy supporters say the library system has returned around $3.60 to the community for every tax dollar spent.

Some of the improvements made after the 2014 replacement levy, according to the pro-levy website include:

• Open hours were expanded in 2017 at multiple library branches in the system, following a survey of library users.  

• A record-breaking 26,926 new physical items have been added to the library system’s collection in 2018. Most of those are books but some are movies, audiobooks, etc.

Interlibrary loan services have been expanded.

• Access is now available to many new digital resources, including CreativeBug online craft tutorials, AcornTV, Great Courses and Mango Languages.

New solutions have been implemented to promote library events through the library system’s website, social media and e-mail.

• The library system has expanded its partnerships with schools, community organizations and cultural entities throughout the county.

• Staff time has been scheduled more efficiently, allowing for increased hours at multiple locations without having to hire additional staff.

Home delivery of library materials for mobility-limited patrons resumed for the first time since 2009.

Renovations and other physical upgrades have been completed at the Coolville, Nelsonville, Glouster and The Plains libraries, following many years of deferred maintenance.

Grants have funded energy efficiency upgrades at several locations.

C. NICHOLAS TEPE, DIRECTOR of Athens County Public Libraries, talked about the range of community benefits operated by the libraries in an email on Monday.

“A few weeks ago when I got back to the Nelsonville library after a meeting, I took a spin around the floor to see what was going on before going to my office. As I walked in, there were two people on our adult computers, one watching an educational video and another taking notes on some sort of product on his screen. The main computers were full of active and engaged kids who were enthusiastic but not out of control. 

“As I walked toward the front, a woman came out of the stacks with a pile of books which she left on the desk before going to an adult computer to type up a document. At the front of the building our youth services librarian was doing her storytime for a handful of little kids and their caregivers. A woman in business clothes was working on her personal laptop, and one of our regulars was reading the paper as usual.

“And as I walked up to my office,” Tepe continued, “in the meeting room there was a training session for COMCorps volunteers who would be going out into the community to try to make everyone’s lives better. All of that was 15 minutes on one day in one library. Things like that are happening every day in all seven libraries around the county.”

OVER THE PAST YEAR or two, some local library patrons have complained that the bookshelves were looking bare, especially at the Athens branch, with many of the books being removed and less of a selection.

Tepe acknowledged that many old, damaged and/or unpopular books have been culled from the Athens County Libraries since 2016, but that was a consequence of the severe financial constraints between 2009 and 2014 when “we weren’t able to keep up with collection development…

“As a result,” Tepe continued, “many books were kept way past their useful life, either because they were damaged, worn or falling apart; or became outdated; or were no longer of interest to our patrons.” 

Tepe explained that in 2016, the library system launched a concerted effort into adding new books to the shelves while removing the aforementioned older or disused books. “We have actually already added more books back into the collection than were removed at this point, but the books that have been added are actually in demand and being checked out and so don’t stay on the shelves for long,” Tepe said.

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