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Carper won't support library levy on May ballot

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper says he voted for the county's excess levy for schools and libraries, which failed resoundingly over the weekend -- but he's not willing to give the library another chance alongside the county's public safety levy next spring.

"The idea of including that in the public safety levy, that's a no -- not with my vote. A back-to-back levy election with the same issue puts a sour taste in my mouth," Carper said Monday. "The voters made their message clear, and to just turn around and try it again, that bothers me."

Only 17 percent of registered Kanawha County voters took part in the special election. Of those, 76 percent said no to an increase in property tax that would've brought in $24.4 million for schools and $3 million for libraries this year.

The county's library system lost 40 percent of its total operating budget when the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the county school system no longer had to financially support it. Library officials wanted the excess levy to essentially replace that funding.

But because the Kanawha County Public Library system is not a levying body, library officials needed another agency -- the County Commission, the county school board or the city of Charleston -- to sponsor it.

The school board agreed to host a levy on the library's behalf, but added more than $20 million to the levy to bring in more money for the school system. That levy failed Saturday.

On Monday, Carper said he's hearing that library supporters will try to seize another opportunity to pass a levy during next May's primary election. Also on that ballot will be the county's public safety levy, which has been in place for more than 30 years and helps fund the county's Emergency Ambulance Authority, local fire and police departments and the Kanawha Valley Regional Transportation Authority.

Carper said he might support a county levy on the library's behalf in the future, but not on the same ballot as the public safety levy, and "not on the heels of Saturday's election."

"Most people thought it might pass, and that's why they didn't vote. Then other people were hoping it'd get beat even worse than it did. Now folks are concerned that they're going to try to run another levy and are asking if we're going to let them do that. Absolutely not," Carper said. "Now what [the library] might ask is for us to put it up on the same election cycle on a separate levy. I'm very cool to that."

The Kanawha County Public Library Board of Directors will meet Tuesday to discuss their next step.

Library Director Alan Engelbert said looking for another route for a levy is a possibility, but a statewide solution to library funding would be ideal. West Virginia ranks among the worst states in the country when it comes to local funding for libraries, he said.

But Engelbert realizes getting money from state lawmakers for libraries isn't likely.

"If a statewide solution can be found that helps deal with Kanawha County's issue and other libraries around the state that may be affected by the court decision, that would be a really desirable thing to have happen," he said. "But there have been discussions for many years in the library community about finding a statewide solution and looking to the legislature right now isn't looking real great either, considering state funding."

"What direction it will go and what the result will be I guess is unknown right now ... There will be plenty of discussion over the weeks to come about the options if, in fact, there really are any."

Carper said he recognizes the importance of libraries, and concerns about Kanawha County Public Libraries' financial future are real.

"I've got grandchildren. I see what libraries do. I understand the need for a quality education. With all this talk about jobs and economy, an educated workforce is where our trouble is. We need more support for education, not less," Carper said.

"But just as a citizen stepping back and looking at it and knowing a little about budgets, I would think there's going to be a real significant change of service on the library's side. I don't see how that is avoidable."Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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