Library faces huge money crunch

Published 10:33 am Thursday, May 21, 2009

IRONTON — The financial forecast that the Briggs Lawrence County Public Library system is facing reads like a horror novel.

The countywide library system and its five branches could be saddled with a budget deficit in excess of nearly $300,000 by year’s end should shrinking revenue into the state of Ohio continue.

Library director Joe Jenkins said that the library’s Board of Trustees has been working to keep up with constant changing revenue forecasts by the Ohio Department of Taxation. The state agency allocates monies to libraries statewide through the Public Library Fund collected primarily through state income and sales taxes.

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“Every time we sit down to make adjustments, the state makes another adjustment,” Jenkins said.

The library system had planned and budgeted for a 4- to 5-percent decrease in funding from 2008, but less than five months into 2009 it could be staring at a 15 to 20 percent decrease in available monies due to higher state unemployment and drops in spending.

Jenkins said that the system cut spending by $160,000 heading into its 2009 fiscal year based on projections delivered by the Ohio Department of Taxation.

Now revenue estimates from Columbus might force Briggs to slash an additional $185,000 to $300,000 depending on the condition of Ohio’s economy heading into the second half of the year.

More than 98-percent of the revenue the Briggs Lawrence County Public Library system brings in is through state funding with the remaining balance coming in from late fees, donors and gifts. No local or county taxes support the library system.

Seventy-five percent of Ohio libraries are funded through the Public Library Fund.

Despite the excessive drop in revenue Jenkins said he wants to make sure the five branches continue to offer the same quality of services the Lawrence County system has a history of.

While nothing is concrete, Jenkins said sacrificing branch hours or cuts in personnel costs are being considered.

If personnel costs or staffing cuts are considered library trustees would have to enter into discussions with union representatives of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union who represent employees at the Ironton branch.

“Despite our troubles, this board is fully committed to keeping our people working,” Jenkins said.

The Lawrence County system has already made steps to help reduce the budget including the suspension or cutting of materials, supplies and library programming.

However the worst-case scenario would be closing one of the system’s five branches located in Ironton, South Point, Chesapeake, Willow Wood and Proctorville. Jenkins said closing one of the branches “is not under discussion at this time.”

Jenkins did say that the trustees would look at the possibility of placing a county-wide operations levy on an upcoming ballot to shore up expenses if losing a branch was inevitable based on current state funding.

“We would look at the options of a levy in the case of a closure,” Jenkins said. “But we are not looking at a levy at this time.”

Unlike many library systems throughout Ohio, Lawrence County property owners do not support its libraries through a property tax levy.