December 22, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria library to ask city to sponsor levy

Heidi Janis, of Elyria, checks out library books with her daughter Harmony, 3, at the Elyria Library Washington Avenue Branch. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

Heidi Janis, of Elyria, checks out library books with her daughter Harmony, 3, at the Elyria Library Washington Avenue Branch. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

ELYRIA — The Elyria Public Library is hoping city officials will balance the city’s financial issues with the library’s and back a library tax issue for May.

Library officials formally voted Thursday to ask the city to act as the library’s taxing authority and place a 1.9-mill levy on the May ballot to be seen by voters in both the Elyria and Keystone school districts. Library officials plan to appear before Elyria City Council on Monday to plead their case, one that will undoubtedly touch heavily on the importance of the issue — it represents 50 percent of the library system’s income.

It is expected to raise about $2 million a year and cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 roughly $35 a year.

“We have always intended to go to the city with this request, but we have to legally vote that this is the direction we want to go,” said Bill McFadden, the Elyria library’s board president, at the conclusion of the quick meeting.

McFadden said he will not be able to attend Monday’s meeting, but Lyn Crouse, the library’s director, will be in attendance and encouraged the library’s other board members to attend as a sign of solidarity.

“I can’t stress enough how important this issue is to the library,” she said.

If the issue gets on the ballot, the library will have to work even harder to get it passed as it will mean different things to voters in the various communities served by the library.

In Elyria, the levy will mean no additional money for residents because they are already taxed at 1.9 mills for the library. For residents in LaGrange and LaGrange Township, it will be an increase. They pay 0.8 mills toward the library operation.

However, for residents in Elyria and Penfield townships and a portion of Carlisle Township, this will be a new levy. They have not paid anything for library services in the past.

Mayor Holly Brinda said Monday’s conversation will have to include some discussion about the city’s financial future, particularly how it will influence safety forces in the next 18 months.

“I really sympathize with the library. I am a longtime library supporter, but my first responsibility has to be to the city of Elyria,” Brinda said. “I’m hopeful we can figure out something that works for everybody.”

Brinda said the biggest hesitation Council may have to placing the library’s issue on the ballot is how it will fit into the city’s own levy plans for the year. No one has said Elyria will try for an issue in May or November, but the lingering need for more revenue in the city make a tax issue in 2014 all but a certainty.

“I think in some ways the city is not going to have any choice,” Brinda said. “If I had to make my best guess knowing we are continuing to work on the recommendations of the audit and with our collective bargaining units, I would say the city has some financial issues that cannot be addressed with just internal actions.”

Three issues — all related to the city’s safety forces -— are combining to create financial need for the city, according to city officials. First, the city is poised to lose a federal grant that is paying the wages of 23 Elyria firefighters this year. Second, another federal stimulus grant is doing the same thing for four Elyria police officers. Last, the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office is closing the women’s jail it operated at Elyria’s city jail and the consequence, Brinda believes, will result in 80 fewer available beds at the Lorain County Jail.

Brinda would like to fund an expansion of the Police Department’s Narcotics Unit and try to find a way to pay to keep the jail open even though she has been quoted a price of at least $500,000 a year back to the county.

“We knew the possibility of losing the jail when they signed the contract,” she said. “We are just working to find a solution because I feel it’s my responsible to make sure that when people break the law there is a consequence and a place to take them.’

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.