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Kanawha library hopes for joint levy vote

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of the Kanawha County Public Library board of directors hope that when voters head to the polls in a special election in November they'll be able to vote for excess levies to support both the school board and the library with one joint vote, instead of checking two separate boxes.

The chances that a levy will pass in support of the library are better that way, library board President Mike Albert said Monday.

"Obviously there are people out there who would to prefer to vote for one and against the other. Our thinking is that we should go forward in a combined fashion," Albert said. "We have been saying all along that we are complementary to, and supportive of, education, and we stand a better chance of advancing this as an education proposal, which it is. Our recommendation would be to go to a vote that would be a vote for both the propositions."

While the school board has yet to vote to run a levy of its own, school board president Pete Thaw said Monday it's very likely to happen.

An existing excess levy for the school board, which is capped at $44 million, already passed last year, and will kick in 2014. If the school board votes to put its own levy on the November ballot, it would be an additional, uncapped levy for school services.

How those levies would show up on the ballot in the election, which is planned for Nov. 9, could be important, library director Alan Engelbert said.

"The amounts would be set out separately -- you'd simply be voting in favor of or against these two levies," he said. "A voter would be going into the booth and saying, 'I'm voting for this entire package or against this entire package.' Our point consistently has been that the library is a part of the education system, and this simply reinforces that."

While Thaw is in favor of sponsoring a levy on behalf of the library, he does not support an additional levy for Kanawha County Schools. He also does not support the levies going onto the ballot together as one vote.

"If the people want to increase their taxes to run the library, they ought to be given that opportunity. But the school levy is entirely different from that. It would be a mistake to do that to the public -- they should know what they're voting for," Thaw said. "This is a shell game. Why try to fool them?"

In February, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the school board in its decade-long funding dispute with the library, declaring that a special act that forced the school system to use money from its budget to support the library is unconstitutional. That meant a loss to the library of about 40 percent of its budget.

However, at a Board of Education meeting last month, school board members voted to contribute about $1.9 million to help support the library through the 2013-14 fiscal year. Before the court decision, Kanawha County Schools had been contributing about $3 million each year to the library.

The school board also agreed last month to sponsor a levy on behalf of the library to bring in taxpayer support. Legally, the library can't run a levy on its own, but school boards, municipalities and county commissions can do so on their behalf.

Albert said he has been discussing with Kanawha Schools Superintendent Ron Duerring the likelihood of a levy proposal that would provide funding "at or near" the $3 million provided before the court decision.

"The 2013-14 fiscal year will present many challenges for us, but because of your commitment to the educational needs of our community, we believe the funding provided by the Board of Education will allow the library to keep all facilities open and services fundamentally intact," Albert wrote in a letter to Thaw dated April 23.

Also at Monday's library board meeting:

* The board approved the purchase of a new phone system for the main Charleston library for $7,000. All members voted for the purchase except Cheryl Morgan, who said she was "uneasy about the timing of this."

But Engelbert said a new system was crucial to replace the original phones, first purchased in 1992. Engelbert said it was "highly doubtful" that if the libraries lost financial support that the main building would close.

* The board announced the resignation of Patty Tompkins, former development coordinator for the library. "Under the best of circumstances, she had a difficult job, and it was made even more difficult," Engelbert said. Tompkins' position will become one of 23 vacancies that will not be filled as the library tries to save money.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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