District library seeking operating levy approval

MARTINS FERRY – The Belmont County District Library is looking to get a 1-mill levy passed this November.

Formerly called the Martins Ferry Public Library, the name changed was necessitated after Ohio SB 321 was signed into law.

The legislation sought to make sure citizens weren’t subject to double taxation for library services. Boundaries had to be redrawn in terms of library coverage so in order for the Martins Ferry library’s branches to be included legally in its boundaries, the change had to be made.

Now the new district library is seeking the 1-mill, 5-year operating levy.

Not all residents of the county will be voting/subject to the levy.

Those residing in the Bellaire, St. Clairsville and Barnesville school district are not affected by the levy as they are serviced by their own libraries.

All other Belmont County communities, including residents of the Harrison Hills, Buckeye Local and Switzerland of Ohio school districts who reside in Belmont County will decide the levy’s fate.

The reason for the levy – dwindling funding.

“The money just hasn’t been coming back,” said Yvonne Myers, director of the Belmont County District Library. “We just can’t operate anymore as is. The minimum wage has gone up, the cost of books has gone up and we don’t have enough in our materials budget.

“There is not enough to operate six buildings anymore and with libraries, the only way to get extra money legally is to put on a levy.”

According to Myers, the is the first time since the Ferry library opened during the 1930s that it has sought the assistance of a levy.

Myers was told at the library’s budget hearing with Belmont County Auditor Andy Sutak that her facilities would be receiving just under $900,000 in funding. When Myers first came on board back in 2001, that total was $1.4 million.

The funding has diminished. The costs have not.

Since that time, the library distract has seen one branch location close in Neffs. The remaining branches include: Bethesda, Bridgeport, Powhatan Point, Shadyside and the Victoria Library in Flushing along with the main library in Martins Ferry.

Attempts have been made to curtail costs by trimming hours and days the libraries are open. Bethesda, Powhatan Point and Flushing are all closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Shadyside is closed on Thursdays and Bridgeport is closed Wednesdays and Saturdays.

All branches, including Ferry, are closed Sundays.

But there is only so much cutting back that can be done according to Myers.

“There are so many fixed costs that you don’t really save that much,” Myers said. “At this point, we need more than what can be saved by trimming hours. This levy will restore us back to 1995-96 funding levels.”

Back then, the minimum wage was less than $5. Now, it’s 7.85. Myers noted she only has so much for payroll and if the minimum wage goes up again, the hours of operation will shrink, as well as the staff.

If the levy should fail to pass, a few of the smaller branches may have to close. It’s not from a lack of interest as all six locations are doing well in terms of usage.

For a home valued at $100,000, the levy will cost $35 per year.

The average hard cover book costs the library $28 to purchase. Children’s books are between $17-18. In essence, Myers explained, the library district is acting residents to buy in two books per year.

Speaking of books, the cost of digital download material is not cheap either.

When the library purchased a digital copy, it is good for up to 26 downloads from the library’s patrons, then the copy deletes itself and must be purchased again.

Fortunately, the library district is part of a statewide library consortium of which 89 libraries across the state are a member. It enables local library patrons to download digital copies of books purchased by other consortium members.

The problem is that, because of funding, the Belmont County Library District has trouble meeting its purchase requirements set forth by the consortium.

Should the levy pass, all branches will return to being open at least five days per week. The lost hours will be restored and the library will be able to offer more of the bestsellers, DVDs, audio books and digital downloads its patrons have come to appreciate through the years.

Hughes may be reached at mhughes@timesleaderonline.com