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Kanawha Co. Library Looks To Second Levy Attempt
By Kera Mashek
March 12, 2014


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Kera Mashek) It looks like this fall, you'll have a chance to once again vote on whether to support a tax increase that would help keep the Kanawha County Public Library system running.

Back in November, the library and school board ran a joint levy vote in special election, and it was overhwhelmingly rejected. Some that happened because the schools asked for too much money. But now there's a new approach in trying to get the measure passed.

The library's in a bind and facing an uphill financial battle. A recent legal change means the school district can't support the library anymore, leading to an annual loss of $3 million dolllars for the library. And the library can't run a levy vote alone. It has to be put on the ballot by the county or school district. So this time around, the library is asking to go it alone and asking the public to vote on a tax increase that would only support its operations.

Even in a digital world, Kanawha County Library branches are still important community hubs and welcome 800,000 visitors a year. So the idea of having to make cuts is devastating.

"Closure of multiple facilities, slashing the materials budget, layoffs of staff...it would be very signifcant," said Alan Engelbert, Kanawha Co. Public Library Director.

That's on top of cuts already made which include 42 less jobs and reduced library branch hours. The library says options to avoid more of that from happening are limited. So it's taking another shot at putting a levy to public vote.

The library hopes by changing what it's asking for this time, you'll have a different view on voting for it.

Final numbers aren't firm, but if the measure's approved, it's estimated property taxes would only go up about $15 a year. That's compared to the $120 increase proposed in the November levy vote.

"We feel what we're asking for is very reasonable. It's not to do radical expansion of services. It's not to build buildings. It's to keep our operations in tact and keep on serving the people of Kanawha County," said Engelbert.

Kanawha County school board president Pete Thaw was outspoken about his objection to last year's levy, but things are a little different this time. While he still doesn't support the levy itself, he's in favor of letting the public decide on library funding.

"For 57 years, we collected money from the taxpayers on a school tax and then turned around and gave a portion of it to the library. We didn't ask the people. We took it. Now the people are going to be able to decide whether or not they want to give it. We're not taking it. We want to see if they want to give it. If they do--fine. If they don't--fine. But it's their decision," Thaw said.

Anthony Collins comes to the main library branch in Charleston almost every day. He says he'll be glad to vote for a levy that only gives money to the library.

"I really hope they'd get behind this to keep it open because it's very important. I don't think people realize how important it is, but they would if it was gone I'm sure," said Collins.

It looks like the true test of support for the library might come down to November's general election, when the levy will likely be on the ballot.

The library board has approved sending a formal request to the school board to get the levy on the November ballot. The school board is expected to discuss whether to move forward with making that happen at its next meeting.

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