What's in the Cincinnati Zoo and Public Library tax levy asks?

Hamilton County voters will decide May 8 whether to renew a property tax levy for the Cincinnati Zoo and double another for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Here's what to know as you go to the ballot box.

The downtown branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County - Hailey Bollinger
Hailey Bollinger
The downtown branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Hamilton County voters will have more than political party nominations to consider in this year’s May 8 primary election. Two of Cincinnati’s most venerable institutions are asking for public support via tax levies.

The Cincinnati Zoo wants voters to stay the course when it comes to their contributions, asking for a levy renewal. That's Issue 2 on the May 8 ballot. A 35-year-old property tax levy costs the owners of a $100,000 house about $10 a year and brings in about $6.5 million a year — roughly one-sixth of the zoo’s overall budget. That money goes toward caring for the zoo’s animals. Voters have approved the levy seven of the eight times it has been up for renewal. Zoo officials say that if the levy doesn't pass, they'll have to find the money elsewhere — likely by deferring maintenance on facilities.

The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County is asking voters to up their contributions to the library system via a 10-year property tax hike. That levy — Hamilton County Issue 3 on the May 8 ballot — would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $28 a year.

Even with the boost, which would bring that same homeowner’s contribution up to roughly $60 a year, the library is cheaper than many across the state for taxpayers. A similar homeowner pays $98 a year in Columbus and $132 a year in Cleveland.

Library officials say they need the boost because funding for libraries approved by state lawmakers has declined in recent years, and because they’re mulling major improvements to the library system that will make circulation and administrative tasks more efficient. Currently, the library gets $38 million from the state — the same level it got 25 years ago. Should the levy fail, the library will face a deficit by 2020, officials say.

The levy seems to have some broad support. For example, the group Our Library, Our Decision has come out in favor of the ask despite having been highly critical of the library’s administration and board on a now-scuttled plan that could have sold the north building of the library’s downtown campus, as well as issues around the way the library treats its employees.

OLOD has major reservations about the administration’s ongoing behavior. We will remain relentless in our effort to change how the library is governed. However, even as we fight to ensure that workers and patrons are empowered to determine our library’s future, it’s vital that this institution secures the funding that it needs. That’s why, despite serious misgivings about its current leadership, OLOD is formally endorsing the library levy,” a statement from the group says. “Vote yes to support our library and its workers.”

However, others are skeptical of the levy. Republican North College Hill City Councilman Matt Wahlert says the library replaced much of its missing state funding with a 2009 levy and isn’t using the funds it has well. He’s advocating voting against the levy.

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