As a township trustee in Bainbridge, I count my blessings every single day that I was able to learn about government and public service from my parents. Looking back, I pinch myself when I realize I’ve been serving Geauga for over twenty-five years. (Dang, I’m old!) I was fortunate to learn so much from my days as an assistant county prosecutor, which ushered me into local government volunteer appointments. Prior to that, my dad taught me about public service. He served the fine folks of Chester Township as a trustee when I was young, and now I find myself extraordinarily blessed to raise my family in this county we call home.

We can thank one of our nation’s founding fathers, Ben Franklin, for founding the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731. It was America’s first lending library and can lay claim to being the predecessor of the free public library. Our nation’s library system has clearly changed substantially through the centuries, but to me it is an invaluable resource: whether for research, digital offerings like electronic and audiobooks, music, movies, an actual old-fashioned book, meetings and events, or, at times, simple solitude.

Geauga is blessed with an outstanding library system. Here is a snapshot of 2016’s library usage:

  • 59,413 total borrowers (10,073 of which are children)
  • 135 public computers
  • 63,295 public internet uses
  • 21,958 wifi logins
  • 161,980 reference transactions 
  • 603,512 total library visits
  • 1,544 programs (1,132 of which were children/YA programs)
  • 41,336 total program attendance (24,842 of which were children/YA programs)
  • Physical circulation: 2,050,078 items
  • eContent circulation: 168,998 items
  • Total circulation: 2,219,076 items 

I believe Mr. Franklin would be proud.

Recently, our Geauga County Public Library (GCPL) Board of Trustees analyzed the state of OUR library buildings, facilities, and amenities that serve us: the public. That board made a public, and difficult, decision to seek the assistance of Geauga voters for the upgrading of some dated facilities and needed maintenance in others. GCPL will be seeking bond approval from all of us at the ballot box this November. In my experience, asking taxpayers for money is never an easy decision, nor one that is arrived at nonchalantly. So when the GCPL Board of Trustees presented its ballot submission resolution to the Geauga Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), requesting purely ministerial approval so as to forward the issue to voters, our commissioners’ reluctance was surprising at best. Why would our duly elected governing county board consider action silencing us, the voters?

Now ultimately, that did not happen. Consistent with what the law appears to clearly require, our BOCC has approved submitting the matter to us, the electorate. But one of their contentions was a question. WHY should a non-Thompson resident or a non-Bainbridge resident have to pay for updated county facilities in those communities?

Well, consider this. As we all know, the notion of Federalism is rooted in our governing document of law, the United States Constitution. There are some powers given to the federal government and some to the states. Within our amazing state of Ohio, we also have levels of government: counties, cities, villages, townships and various districts, such as school districts, recreation districts, etc. Geauga County is home to 16 townships, 4 villages, and one city. Within that structure, we also have levels of amenities/services.

Consider our parks for example. We have federal parks (Cuyahoga Valley National Park) run by the National Park Service, state parks (Punderson) run by ODNR, county parks (West Woods, Orchard Hills, Observatory Park, etc.) run by the Geauga County Park District, and local parks (here in Bainbridge we have Centerville Mills, Heritage Park, and a few others) that are run by us at the township level.

What about our roadways? We have some US routes (US 422) maintained by a division of the US Dept. of Transportation, some state roads (Rte 44 and Rte 306) maintained by ODOT, county roads (Caves Road, Bainbridge Road, etc.) maintained by the Geauga County Engineer’s Office, and local roads (here in Bainbridge we have Kenston Lakes, English, Country Lane, etc.) maintained by local road departments. For a really cool map showing these designations, look here.

My county tax dollars go toward, among other things, my county roads and parks. I don’t drive on Caves Road, for example, but some of my tax dollars still go to its maintenance, or even an improvement if needed. If we only paid for those roads we as individuals use, every road would be a toll road. I don’t frequent Observatory Park or Bass Lake Preserve, but some of my tax dollars still go toward their maintenance or, if needed, improvement. I don’t have to pay individually for access to my county parks.

Similarly, our county library system. If I go to the Bainbridge branch to borrow a book, and they don’t have it, they can check the county system. If the needed book is at Geauga West, it can either be sent to Bainbridge, or I can go to Geauga West and check it out. Geauga County has a county-wide library system, and we have since 1963 when the BOCC designated it as one. As Geauga residents, we all share in the burden and the benefit.

Why? My take on that is because sometimes, for the good of the whole, we all contribute, even though we may not all individually use or obtain the direct benefit. At the township level where I am, many of our residents may never need the services of our township fire department, but we ask our residents to support the service with their tax dollars.

We have so many amazing services in Geauga County, like the Geauga County Department on Aging, Geauga County Job and Family Services Agency, Geauga County Board of Developmental Disabilities, and so on. Many of us will never use the services of any of these county systems. But if we need those county services, they’re available. They all contribute to making Geauga County one heckuva place to live and raise our families. So, I believe, it is with our County Library. We need only look to those GCPL statistics above.

There are definitely various ways in which to fund these governmental entities, and a thorough explanation or analysis would far exceed what I can share here. But the bottom line, for ALL of us as Geauga County residents, is that on this important issue, our BOCC has chosen NOT to silence our voice. For that I am grateful.

We have a chance to examine the numbers and the need shared by our GCPL, and make our own informed decision at the ballot box in November. Not every voter supports every issue. Rather, we assign values to what we are willing to support with our hard-earned tax dollars, and we make our voice heard as a whole. We each have an obligation to research, to ask questions, to understand the question before us. Because at the end of day, as numerous philosophers have shared and we all realize, we get the government we deserve.

Lorrie Sass Benza is currently running for her third term as a Bainbridge Township Trustee and has served as the Chief Assistant Prosecutor and Director of the Civil Division for the Geauga County Prosecutor’s Office where she represented all townships, as well as numerous county offices, including the GCPL. She is currently reading The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner.
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