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Kanawha County Commission would support library levy

Library funding moves forward

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of the Kanawha County Commission said they would support putting an excess levy on the ballot to help bail out the county library system, but don't know what chance the measure might have of passing.

"Levies are awful tough these days," commission President Kent Carper said at a regular meeting Thursday.

The Kanawha County Board of Education is no longer required by law to provide the county's public library with about $3 million, or roughly 40 percent of the library's budget. Last month, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state school board could not compel county schools systems to support county libraries. Library officials have said the cuts will be devastating if they can't find a way to replace the funding.

Kanawha County Public Library Director Alan Engelbert and library board President Mike Albert came to the County Commission meeting Thursday to talk about the library's plight. Albert said they wouldn't ask the commission for any more money, but wanted to thank county officials for money they already supply to the library system.

The commission also provides about $3 million a year to the library system.

Still, Carper and Commissioners Dave Hardy and Hoppy Shores said they would help the library in any way they could, including putting a library excess levy on the ballot.

"We're not going to turn a deaf ear to you," Carper said. "I just hope the school board decides to do the right thing [and restore funding to the library]."

Albert said he was meeting with Kanawha Superintendent Ron Duerring today to try and talk school officials out of cutting funding for the library.

Hardy asked about the future of the county's branch libraries, the bookmobile and a plan to build a new library facility in light of budget cuts.

Albert said the bookmobile stops at seven schools and makes 27 stops a month in areas of with little library access. Staffing and maintaining the bookmobile are expensive, he said.

Library officials also are putting off plans to build a new facility, a project that county commissioners have pledged $1 million to help build.

"Derailed is a pretty strong word, but we've kind of put it in a holding pattern," Albert said. "We haven't scrubbed the mission, but we've set it aside for the time being."

Albert and Engelbert said they hope the Legislature will pass a measure to help the library. But they conceded they might be forced to ask taxpayers for an library excess levy.

In either case, the money would not be available until July 1, 2014, they said.

Also Thursday, commissioners learned that officials for the town of Pratt intend to put the sale of the town's water plant up to a town vote during the town's June 11 election. Selling the water plant requires passing a town ordinance and a city election.

Pratt will sell the water plant to West Virginia American Water for $437,000. Commissioners voted Thursday to pay up to $180,000 to retire Pratt's debts to make the deal work, and agreed to spend $37,000 for an emergency pump to keep the plant operating until West Virginia American can take over.

Also Thursday, commissioners approved merit raises for County Commission staff. The raises were worked out by County Manager Jennifer Sayre. Commissioners had asked her not to give raises to herself, finance director Dave Fontalbert or County Attorney Marc Slotnick.

The commission budget had about $11,000 left over after the raises were figured, so commissioners voted unanimously to give raises to Sayre, Fontalbert and Slotnick, as well.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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