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Kanawha Co. Library Board Says Serious Cuts Ahead After Failed Levy

Reported by: Send eMail Kera Mashek
Web Producer: Jeff Morris
Reported: Nov. 12, 2013 5:25 PM EST
Updated: Nov. 12, 2013 10:35 PM EST

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Library Levy Update
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Charleston , Kanawha County , West Virginia

The Kanawha County Library system would've gotten $3 million if the excess levy had passed during last weekend's special election. Now, it's trying to figure out how to find funding elsewhere to keep the doors open.

The school district can only legally continue funding the library through the end of June. So the library was hoping the levy would fill in the 40 percent of its budget that it will lose when the school's support goes away. Tuesday night, the library board met to begin talking about how it will now carve that $3 million out of its already tight budget.

"I don't know what they think we're going to do without a library or without a library to the extent that we have one now," said Michael Layne of Charleston.

Layne comes to the library almost every day, and he's worried about what the future holds now that the library's set to lose almost half of its budget. Tuesday night, library board members made it clear: people have every right to be worried. Serious cuts are coming.

"We will now begin the painful process of reorganizing and retooling a library --a system that was built over a hundred years. Re-organizing and retooling will require us to consider how and when we spend every dollar. It will require us to modify, eliminate, change and reduce the operation so that we live within a seriously reduced budget," said Mike Albert, Kanawha County Library Board President.

The board will organize a committee, assigned to study every possible option for new funding---from asking for more money from local cities where library branches are located to lobbying for state dollars. That committee will also dissect every way to cut costs, trying to do as little damage to services as possible. But the reality is that some branches will likely close altogether, hours could be cut back at other locations, and some library staff may be let go.

"The cost per patron is going to be the driver. If you have a branch that's not cost productive, we'll be looking hard at it," Albert said.

Life-long Charleston resident Marshall Spradling says it's sad to see such a valuable community resource suffer. After all, it's a resource that 800,000 people used last year to learn, study, and search for jobs.

"Lots of people rely on the library as the place to go in and browse, see the new releases. Younger people come in and do their school work. People are able to use the computers, and that's very valuable for folks that don't otherwise have access to a computer, so I can certainly understand that great need. I do love the library," said Spradling.

So it will be a rough road ahead as the axe begins to fall and cuts are made to the services at the library that so many people depend on.

Some people have also been asking about why the library can't tap into the estimated $18 million the library has set aside for building a new facility. Well, a lot of that money isn't actually in the bank. It's just been pledged for the project, and is designated to the library foundation, a separate entity.

The library director told says he's not sure if there would be legal restrictions on using that money to help with the current budget crisis, but insists it would be unethical since that money was donated specifically for the building project.

Meanwhile, another levy vote is not out of the question. The library cannot legally run a levy on its own. It would have to partner with the school district again, or the county. But even if that happens, the library will still have to make cuts now, because even if a levy were passed, money wouldn't start coming in before the next fiscal year, when its money from the school district will disappear.



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