By Kevin Kelley
At the May 7 primary election, voters will be asked to renew an operating levy that will provide about three-fourths of Westlake Porter Public Library’s annual $4.7 million budget.
The current 2.8-mill levy, which voters approved by a 57.6 to 42.4 margin in March 2008, expires at the end of 2013.
Five years ago, Porter library trustees sought a 0.3-mill tax increase along with the renewal of an expiring 2.5-mill tax. But this year, library officials are seeking only a renewal.
“We didn’t feel this was the time to go out for more dollars,” said Bob Plantz, president of the library’s board of trustees.
If the renewal is approved by voters, the owner of a house valued at $100,000 would pay $85.75 annually. The tax is expected to raise $3.82 million annually.
On Jan. 10, the Westlake City Schools Board of Education, which serves as the official taxing authority for the library, passed resolutions placing the operating renewal on the May ballot. The school district itself will ask voters to pass a new 5.9-mill operating levy at the same election.
Five years ago, the money collected from the operating levy made up two-thirds of Porter’s annual budget. If renewed, the levy revenues would represent 75 percent of the annual budget.
“With the drop in state funding, now the property taxes account for a greater percentage of the funding,” said Plantz, who added that’s the trend across Ohio.
During the past five years, Porter set several records in attendance and circulation. The Center Ridge Road library remains a popular Westlake destination, drawing 500,000 visitors last year, Director Andrew Mangels said. More than 1.3 million items were borrowed by patrons, he added.
However, like other libraries across the country, Porter has seen a plateau in circulation numbers the past year or so.
“I think e-books are certainly having an impact,” Mangels said. Porter offers e-books, but publishers often limit the number or titles libraries can offer patrons.
Porter continues to offer numerous resources besides books. The building’s meeting rooms, which are in use approximately 75 percent of the time during the weekday evening hours, drew an estimated 28,000 people last year, Mangels said.
“A lot of community groups rely on that space,” he said.
Plantz noted that the Internet-linked computers are frequently filled.
“People come in here using the Internet doing job searches,” the trustee president said.
Mangels pointed to a number of new services the library has added in the past year, including:
• participation in the SearchOhio and OhioLink consortium interlibrary loan programs, through which Porter patrons can borrow books from across the state.
• free digital subscriptions to as many as 79 magazines through Zinio, a San Francisco-based digital publishing company.
• the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program, which encourages early reading.
• a partnership with Connecting for Kids, a Westlake-based nonprofit that provides support for families concerned about their children’s development
Porter also kept its doors open an hour longer on weekends, from 5 to 6 p.m., on Fridays and Saturdays beginning Aug. 10. And, after the summer break, it opened on Sundays a month earlier, in August instead of September. Throughout 2013, Porter will be open on Sundays, even in the summer, Mangels said.
“We think that the library has demonstrated its value to the community,” Mangels said.
Porter’s value was perhaps never more appreciated than last fall, when Superstorm Sandy’s winds knocked out electrical power to thousands of Westshore residents. Several hundred spent many hours at the library, staying warm and using its power outlets and Wi-Fi signal to stay connected.
A citizens committee is being formed to run a campaign to promote the levy renewal among Westlake voters. A campaign website is planned, and trustees will set up informational tables in the library lobby in the weeks leading up to the primary vote. Plantz, Mangels and other Porter officials plan to speak about the need for the levy to community groups.