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Published: Wednesday, 5/19/2010

Wood County library, health levy proposals questioned

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - Two organizations seeking support from Wood County taxpayers this November are meeting with questions - lots of questions - from county commissioners.

Although the board has no direct jurisdiction over the county health department or the Wood County District Public Library, it must approve any requests to put taxes on the ballot.

The health board plans to ask voters to replace its 10-year, 0.5-mill operating levy, while library trustees are seeking a first-ever, five-year, 0.8-mill operating levy to make up for the recent loss in state library funding.

"We had some things we felt that on behalf of taxpayers we needed to point out," Commissioner Tim Brown said after the meeting with health officials yesterday. "We've asked for some assurances."

Specifically, commissioners want to know that once voters approve a levy, the agency will not immediately hand out lucrative pay raises like the Wood County Park District did after its 10-year replacement levy passed in 2008. Park commissioners rescinded the raises after considerable public outcry.

Mr. Brown told health officials he would prefer the health department seek a five-year levy rather than a 10-year levy because it would make the department more accountable to voters who otherwise do not elect health board members or the health commissioner.

He also said he was uneasy about a replacement levy, which, unlike a renewal, would result in a slight tax increase during tough economic times.

According to the Wood County Auditor's Office, the existing 0.5-mill health levy is collected at just under 0.42 mill and generates approximately $1.37 million a year. If the levy were replaced, it would be collected at the full 0.5 mill and generate nearly $1.59 million a year.

For the owner of a home valued at $100,000, the health department tax would increase from $12.77 a year to $15.31 a year.

Bill Ault, director of administration for the health department, said the additional funding is needed to cover the costs of building maintenance that has in the past been paid by county commissioners.

He said the demand for health department services also has increased with the downturn in the economy. People who have never come to the health department's medical clinic or used other services have lost jobs and "don't have a choice," he said.

The levy, Health Commissioner Pamela Butler said, "will allow us to continue to meet the level of services we currently have - about 101 services."

Also yesterday, library trustees formally agreed to seek a 0.8-mill levy that would generate just under $1.04 million a year for five years and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $24.50 a year.

Commissioners, who met with library officials last week, sent trustees a letter Monday that suggested the library assure voters that the levy passage will not mean automatic pay raises for staff, that the library consider implementing user fees, and that the library keep in place a new requirement that employees pick up their share of pension contributions even if the levy passes.

Library Board President Brian Paskvan said the finance committee would be looking at the suggestions.

"Anything is fair game at this time," he said. "We would want to make sure that we're minimizing the tax burden on the general public and at the same time we want to make sure we're good stewards of their money."

With its main branch in Bowling Green and a small one in Walbridge, the library district encompasses much but not all of the county. It includes all of the Bowling Green school district; the Wood County portions of the Anthony Wayne, Gibsonburg, Lake, Lakota, McComb, and Patrick Henry school districts, and the portions of the Perrysburg and Fostoria school districts that are outside the city limits.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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