Third Times a Charm for St. Paris Public Library
by: Nancy McAlpin, Director
The passing of a library property tax levy is a formidable task. This requires multiple steps, many partners, a clear understanding of why you need this additional funding, and a way to achieve this goal. Over the scope of twelve months, it took the St. Paris Public Library three tries to finally pass our general purpose levy–with much hand wringing!
It really takes a village to pass such a levy. For our contributors, the partner list includes the Library Fiscal Officer, Library Board, County Auditor, School Board (our governing body), Friends of the Library, library staff, and the library director. Each of these players have an important role and a list of duties that need to be accomplished.
The Ohio Library Council (OLC) has a helpful paperback book called Ballot Issues, that guided us in many ways. We purchased one for all the Board members so everyone could prepare. The handbook became the core of our planning.
In passing our levy, several steps were taken. The first was making the initial decision to request new funds from the tax payers and then going from there… little by little. This task has several deadlines and rules to follow–your County Election Office can help! Be aware and get informed!
After this second failure, I closed the library for one afternoon and evening a week. This step saved us staff costs. Then the cleaning crew was reduced by one night. This and some other small changes saved us money. I was looking down the road at some serious financial concerns that needed to be addressed with some cost saving steps. I worked with the staff so that they could understand why we were doing this and then I listened to their concerns and ideas.
The first time we were on the ballot, it was very new ground for us. I was immaturely confidant that the public would, without a doubt, support us. We took a quiet, “just let it happen” approach and then sat back and watched it fail. It was very unsettling. The second time we failed by 16 votes. I felt we were reaching more voters with our low key message, but not enough. We were not building the strong support base that we needed. We had to reach the geographical area that voted no, and remind them why we needed them and what we could do for them. It was surprising how many citizens never even knew we had financial concerns. You really have to tell them over and over…
The third time… we asked the Friends of the Library to get on board with yard signs, book marks, and a door to door campaign. The Friends of the Library became our Political Action Committee. According to the ORC, a local government entity is not permitted to directly fund its levy publicity efforts. So the Friends stepped in and did a great job!
I wrote articles for the local papers, placed ads in the papers, and asked for letters to the editor to be written. I also spoke with local groups and schools in order to meet the most people and spread the word. Tell it once and then tell it again!
An aggressive volunteer program was put in place and this helped us so much. We developed an actual volunteer schedule and used them for at least forty hours a week. Questions concerning the program can be discussed at a later time, but I am open to questions on this. It is quite a job to coordinate all these people.
Finally, the third time proved to be a success and we passed with a resounding “YES” vote. Now we are learning how to budget this new money and work with the auditor to receive it. Every step has been new to us and we have learned to follow the rules and work to make this a positive experience.
For anyone looking down the road in this time of financial uncertainty, please start planning now. It may take you more than once to make it happen.
To see our library…check out our website!