ELYRIA — The Elyria Public Library System needs the city to place a property tax issue on the May ballot, but city officials stopped short Monday night of saying they were ready to step up as the library’s taxing authority, deciding it was best to first discuss the city’s own financial future.
With 23 firefighters and four police officers receiving a salary paid out of federal grants set to expire, city officials in 2014 will discuss how to pay for those employees once federal dollars disappear. Going after new money via a tax issue is an option, but no one on Elyria City Council or the mayor’s office has said that is the route to take.
However, the library’s own financial need raises questions. Does the city place the library issue on the ballot knowing the measure’s language will identify it as an additional tax sought by the city and possibly taint its own prospects of a successful city campaign or do city officials tell the library they can’t act because a city tax issue is likely imminent and voter confusion cannot be afforded?
The library would like a 1.9-mill levy placed on the ballot in the Elyria and Keystone school districts. If passed, it will generate more than $2 million in revenue and account for 50 percent of the library’s budget.
Thanks to a new state law, the levy must be presented as a new levy although most of the service district pays a library levy ranging from 1.9 mills in Elyria and 0.8 of a mill in Keystone.
“I sympathize with them because there is no doubt they need the money,” Mayor Holly Brinda said. “But I can’t advocate strongly enough about how we have to have that conversation in the context of what’s in the best interest of the city of Elyria. I’m a supporter of the library, but the big picture of the city finances for 2014 and 2015 cannot be ignored.”
Raising the issue to City Council members on behalf of the library Monday night, Brinda urged them to act quickly in deciding what direction they wanted to take, including how now is the time to discuss tax strategy for both the primary and general elections.
Library director Lyn Crouse did not attend the meeting.
Brinda said she has strongly encouraged Crouse to seek another taxing authority as a second option, possibly Lorain County Community College, which just passed a major tax levy in November and is less likely to go back on the ballot in 2014.
Elyria Schools could serve as the library’s taxing authority, but with two high-stakes renewals on the May ballot, district officials are not likely to want to associate with anything that could bring about voter confusion.
The deadline for the library to get paperwork to the Lorain County Board of Elections so the levy can appear on the primary ballot is Feb. 2. Council President Mike Lotko, D-at large, said Council will have no choice but to have a talk about taxes the first meeting in January.
“What do we do? If we’re their only option and we turn them down, we could still look like the bad guys,” he said.
Councilman Jack Baird, R-at large, said he thought November would be the earliest the city could possibly think about a tax issue. In his mind, he had all but ruled out May.
The library issue will not be an easy sell, regardless to how it gets on the ballot. There will have to be a strong education campaign to inform voters in several political subdivisions how the levy would affect them.
Elyria would not see a tax increase with the levy’s passage because Elyria already pays 1.9 mills. LaGrange and LaGrange Township voters would have to OK an increase from 0.8 mills to 1.9 mills, and voters in Elyria, Penfield and parts of Carlisle Township would have to agree to a brand new tax.
A failure in May would force the library to have to come back to the ballot in November. All of its current levies expire at the end of next year.
Councilman Marcus Madison, D-5th Ward, said some serious planning has to come into play in January.
“We have a lot to think about on our end, but I wouldn’t want us to leave our library high and dry, which could cause them to close branches if they lose 50 percent of their funding,” he said.
Crouse has previously said a 50 percent budget reduction would devastate the library, which employs 70 people and operate five branches.