For library levies, supermajority vote hard to get
WINFIELD, W.Va. -- If it were just a matter of more people wanting a library levy to pass than fail, the director of the Putnam County Library believes one already would have passed.
The levy needs 60 percent of voters to pass, though, and the county has failed four times recently to hit that mark. Sometimes, it's been agonizingly close.
"One was even 59 point something," library director Steve Christo said.
The West Virginia Library Association is one of several groups asking legislators to vote for House Joint Resolution 29, which would allow state voters to decide whether to eliminate the supermajority rule for levies.
"It would be a constitutional amendment, so it would have to be put on the ballot of a statewide election," said Myra Ziegler, president of the library association.
Last month, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the Kanawha County Board of Education no longer is required by law to divert a portion of its budget to the public library each year -- meaning the library would lose about 40 percent of its annual $8 million budget.
At a meeting Tuesday, Kanawha library officials discussed pushing for an excess levy to support the library through the school board, the Kanawha County Commission or the city of Charleston, as they plan how to move forward without funding from the Board of Education.
Karen Goff, secretary of the West Virginia Library Commission, said about 40 libraries in the state are funded through some sort of levy arrangement. Only Fayette County has a library funded with a county commission and board of education levy, Goff said. "It doesn't happen very often," she said.
To get the measure on the ballot for public vote, the county commission and/or the school board must agree, according to Goff.
If Kanawha's library were to get the levies, it would generate additional money from what the county and city already provide, she said.
Ziegler, who also is director of the Summers County Public Library, said Summers has never been able to meet the supermajority required.
"We've only gotten about 51 percent," she said. "We are on a city levy, but [Hinton] has such a small population, the tax base only generates $6,000 a year."
Putnam and Summers counties' boards of education provide the libraries with the recommended amount from the state Department of Education. Putnam's school excess levy includes providing a portion of money to the library, but it wasn't as much as state education officials recommended about three years ago.
"They rose to meet it," Christo said.
Kanawha library administrators have said they plan to ask the school board to give at least some funding voluntarily.
Christo said the Putnam Board of Education supplies the libraries with $165,881 each year and the County Commission gave $265,000. He requested that commissioners increase the amount for fiscal year 2013-14 by $20,000.
Putnam needs a larger library, Christo said. A national library-space assessment shows that Putnam should have a little more than 18,000 square feet of space at its main branch, which has about 8,000.
Christo also is concerned that the Supreme Court decision could cause problems if Kanawha or Cabell county libraries are forced to cut back on spending.
"One of those cuts might be the delivery system they do for affiliates," he said. "Then, there would be no way to borrow books from other county service centers. Putnam patrons would only have access to books in Putnam County.
"People will really see what they're missing when they don't have e-books or all the new books."
Based on reaction to the Supreme Court decision, though, Christo thinks Kanawha County could have a large majority of the public's support to pass a library levy.
"But to get 60 percent," he said, "I don't know."
Reach Kate White at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1723.