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Library can ask, but county, city say they can't afford bailout

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Faced with a 40 percent loss in their operating revenue, Kanawha County library officials said Tuesday evening that they will immediately ask the county and city for more money. But Charleston and Kanawha County leaders say that isn't going to work.Members of the Kanawha County Commission don't plan to cut funding for the Kanawha County Public Library, but neither can they afford to help bail out the library system.Last week, the state Supreme Court ruled that the Kanawha County Board of Education was not obligated to provide funding to the library system, ending a decade-old dispute between the school board and library officials over funding. Money from the school board makes up about 40 percent of the library's $8 million annual budget.County library board president Mike Albert said library officials are still trying to figure out how to make up for the loss in revenue, which amounts to about $3 million a year.Other than asking the city and county for more money, options for making up the lost funding include asking school officials to reconsider the funding cut, asking county taxpayers to approve an excess levy to fund the library and lobbying the state Legislature for a long-term fix to the problem."We need to try everything we can," Albert said. "We put up a significant amount now," said Charleston Mayor Danny Jones. "We've given them almost $9 million in the past 10 years."Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said he was appalled that the board of education would no longer fund the library, but said there isn't much the County Commission can do to help. He said the commission already provides the library system about $3 million a year, and has helped fund branch libraries and other projects."I don't know where in the world [more money] would come from," Carper said.Although neither city nor county officials intend to cut funding to the library, neither can they afford to pay any more, they said.
"I don't think we should give any more or any less," said County Commissioner Hoppy Shores.County Commissioner Dave Hardy said finding an extra $3 million to bail out the library is not possible."That would require us to make very Draconian cuts in our county budget," he said. "We've cut all the fat out of our budget, and we've cut it down to the bone."Hardy said an extra $3 million for the library system amounts to more than 6 percent of the county's $48 million annual budget. "We've never had 6 percent excess in our budget in the 13 years I've been here," he said.
The County Commission does maintain a $4 million to $6 million stabilization fund, a kind of rainy day fund the county relies on to pay the bills when tax collections are slow or to help with emergencies like last summer's derecho storm. Hardy said raiding the stabilization fund would be a "foolish thing to do."Carper said the county's payroll alone amounts to about $1 million every two weeks. If the county raids the stabilization fund to help out the library, he said, "Who would bail out the county?"Carper said finding extra money to fund the library system would require cuts in basic services like the sheriff's department, Metro 911 and county court system. Those are cuts county officials are unwilling to make."I don't understand the thought process of the Board of Education, but I'm not on the Board of Education," Carper said. "The whole thing is ludicrous, but the Legislature did this, and the Legislature needs to fix it."Carper doesn't think county taxpayers would be willing to pay for another excess levy for library service either, adding that many taxpayers feel they're taxed out.Still, Albert said library officials will explore a tax levy and asking for more funding from the county and city.
"We're going to ask, in any event," he said. "We need to exhaust all options."Reach Rusty Marks at or 304-348-1215.
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