Libraries push back against potential budget cuts

May 30—A reduction in the state's public library fund slated to take effect July 1 would, according to local library officials, be detrimental to the services these institutions provide for the community.

"We talk about the library as a community's investment in itself," said Jason Kucsma, executive director of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library. "And that's 100 percent true."

With an annual budget of approximately $45 million, about half of the county libraries' funding comes from the state's public library fund. In July, the percentage of money the fund gets from the Ohio general revenue fund is scheduled to be reduced from 1.7 percent to 1.66 percent.

Additionally, a 2 percent income-tax cut would reduce the general revenue fund even further. Mr. Kucsma said for the local library system, these cuts would mean an approximate loss of $500,000 annually, and libraries statewide would face a $22 million financial reduction from state funding.

During the past year, Mr. Kucsma said the Toledo library system's usage for digital resources has skyrocketed, and those types of resources are more expensive to offer than physical books and other media.

At a library board meeting Thursday, Mr. Kucsma outlined the organization's five-year strategic plan, which includes the library continuing to serve as a go-to for community connection.

"Certainly a reduction by half a million dollars a year would have an impact," he said.

But while the Ohio House of Representatives' version of the budget doesn't address the library cuts, Mr. Kucsma believes the state senate version of the budget will likely include some sort of amendment and hold-harmless clause to protect the state's library funding.

Janel Haas, director of the Way Public Library in Perrysburg, said it's frustrating to see libraries being asked to provide services like distributing coronavirus testing kits or assisting people in navigating the job market to find employment while at the same time potentially facing their own budgets being cut.

"They're asking more of us," she said.

Libraries are important focal points for community services, as they should be, she said, but those services cost money. And at Way, the state cuts could mean a loss of two part-time staffers, though Ms. Haas said determining exactly how much the library's budget would be reduced is difficult to determine at this point.

Library funds are distributed from the state to the counties, she said, and then the counties determine fund allocations from there. In Lucas County, one library system gets the funding, but in Wood County, multiple libraries have to share the resource.

The Way Public Library's annual budget is about $2.4 million.

Over time, the public library fund has decreased. Since 2008, when the fund was about $450.6 million, it dropped to $409.4 million last year, according to Ohio Library Council data.

"We definitely are needed all the time," Ms. Haas said, noting further that, "When times are down, usage goes up."