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Excess levy critical to library system funding, Albert says

DUNBAR, W.Va. -- The excess levy election slated for Nov. 9 will determine whether the Kanawha County Public Library continues to serve as the "people's university," or if it will be forced to substantially slash its operations, library board President Mike Albert said.

"Those are the only two options," he said at a Wednesday afternoon board of directors meeting. "Our effort with this levy is to be able to put our funding in place and move forward at the level that will provide us with a healthy, solid basis going forward."

Albert told the crowd gathered at the annual KCPL board meeting at the Dunbar branch library that the five-year excess levy is a tough thing to ask people for, but it's necessary to avoid a huge blow to the library's funding.

The libraries' financial woes stem from a decision made by the state Supreme Court in February, which ruled that the Kanawha County Board of Education was no longer required to fund the KCPL.

The Kanawha school board voted last week to run an excess levy Nov. 9, with about $3 million going toward the county's libraries each year if passed. That amount makes up about 40 percent of the libraries' total operating budget, and is comparable to what the school board was required by law to designate for library services in the past.

"The schools and the libraries are partners in this election," Albert said.

While the school board agreed to hold a levy on the library's behalf to help generate alternate funds, the $3 million going to the library is a small portion of the proposed excess levy, which will generate $24 million from taxpayers for school services in its first year.

Ron Duerring, the superintendent of Kanawha County Schools, said many people have asked him why the school board has proposed such a large levy -- the first in almost 20 years to take advantage of the full legal limit it can tax residents.

"I want to make it clear, it's just like the library; our resources are being cut back, and funding is starting to dry up a little bit," he said.

Duerring said the county school system has suffered several recent setbacks in its budget, including a 5.2 percent sequestration cut across all of its federal programs, as well as a $10 million loss in Medicaid funding and the elimination of federal stimulus funding.

"Those are some of the reasons why we're coming forward and saying, 'We need help,'" he said. "We need that help in order to be able to move forward in the school system, and with our public library system as well."

Duerring said the county has put in a lot of effort to reduce its education costs, including reducing overtime and maintenance by 50 percent, cutting payroll, setting up an energy management system in the district that returned $7.4 million to the county's budget, allowing cooperative purchases with other counties and slightly increasing the teacher-to-student ratio from 21:1 to 22:1.

"We've worked hard to bring some additional revenue in, and we've also worked hard to cut costs," he said. "When I think about this levy, it's really about going to the taxpayers and asking them, 'Is this what you want us to do to move forward in the school system?'"

The current school excess levy, which is capped at $44 million and goes into effect next July, is only 65 percent of what the county is permitted to charge taxpayers under state code. If passed, taxpayers can expect to pay at least 50 percent more in school excess levy taxes than they do now.

The Kanawha school board has agreed to fund the library at a reduced level through the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year. According to Albert, the remaining funding will carry them through the passage of the levy and help avoid dire financial problems. Public library officials plan to create a separate organization to work on campaigning in favor of the levy.

"The library foundation is somewhat limited in what we can do with respect to ballot initiatives, so we'll be putting together an organization that will help run our portion of this," Albert said.

The regular school levy rate will not change and is controlled by the Legislature. The 10 branches of the Kanawha County Public Library are located in Charleston, Clendenin, Cross Lanes, Dunbar, Elkview, Glasgow, Marmet, Riverside, St. Albans and Sissonville.

For more information on the public libraries, visit http://kanawhalibrary.org.

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.


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