Commissioners approve November levy vote for Portage County’s struggling library system

Photo by Tom Hermans on Unsplash

The Portage County District Library will again ask for help from taxpayers after at least a dozen previous levy attempts have failed at the ballot box, leaving the district as the third-worst funded library in the state.

Last week, county commissioners approved the library’s request to place a 1 mill levy on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The Portage County District library is now solely dependent on Ohio’s Public Library Fund, library Director Jonathan Harris said. That funding was reduced in 2009, forcing them to close its Brimfield branch and to cut its hours at the remaining branch libraries in Aurora, Garrettsville, Streetsboro, Randolph and Windham.

The library also provides outreach services, delivering materials to senior facilities, to people needing home delivery services, to The Library Box at NEOMED, and to nine Library Express locations throughout the county.

“When you account for population and budget, PCDL is the third-worst funded library in the state of Ohio,” Harris said.

Given the way tax collections work, even if voters approve the levy in November, the library would see its funding increase start in 2022 and continue until 2030. Proceeds would be about $3 million annually, which translates to about $35 a year for residents who own a home assessed at $100,000, Harris said.

If the levy passes this time, the library system plans to restore its hours at its five branches, expand the express pickup locker service throughout the county and provide regular bookmobile service to areas of the county that do not have a branch. The library would also be able to consider opening a new branch, Harris said.

“It is our hope that we can finally pass this so that our system can provide the kinds of service that our patrons deserve,” Harris said. “While we try to provide the best service possible, there’s no way to get around the fact that we’re offering 21st century service with funding that’s stuck in the 1990s. Right now we’ve got four school districts in the southern part of our county served by one branch that is only open 25 hours a week. One way or another, things have to change.”

The proposed tax levy now goes to the auditor’s office for certification, then back to the commissioners, who will note the amount of money it will bring in, and finally will make its way to the Board of Elections for placement on the ballot.

Kent and Ravenna also have libraries, but they are not part of the district library system.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.