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Funding issues delay new Kanawha library

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Development of a new main branch for the Kanawha County Library is on hold so officials can focus on funding issues that threaten mass closures and layoffs.

Director Alan Engelbert said the campaign for a new building has officially been put on hiatus and will be until the library system is sufficiently funded.

Library officials have sought relocation to accommodate a need for more efficiently designed space for more than a decade.

"We are simply out of space and have been for quite some time," Engelbert said.

"We are unable to offer services a modern library should offer."

The campaign is still ongoing and donations are being accepted.

To date, the library has raised more than $18 million in private donations for the new building. Engelbert expects another $22 million will be needed for construction and property acquisition.

Events and donation drives have been done in the past, but Engelbert said fundraising is not actively pursued right now because budget issues have been "all consuming."

Kanawha County libraries have been in financial straits since last year when the state Supreme Court overturned a 1957 law requiring school boards to fund libraries.

Before that ruling, the Kanawha County Board of Education and the library system were in a decade-long funding dispute that started when the board sued in 2003.

Losing that revenue stream meant the library budget would be slashed by 40 percent, the repercussions of which are still being felt as library officials search for funding.

While the county school board isn't required to fund the library anymore, it decided to voluntarily provide nearly $2 million in support for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

Library year-to-date receipts indicate that $1.15 million - or 58 percent - of that money has been paid so far.

After June 30 - the end of the current fiscal year - the library will lose that voluntary funding as well.

The library could rely on reserve funds, but will ask the school board to run an excess levy on the general election ballot in November.

The proposed levy will last five years, which is the maximum allowed by the state constitution. At about $3 million each year, it will generate $18 million in total support for the library.

This will be the second time the library has petitioned voters to help keep the doors open.

In a special election last November, voters overwhelmingly defeated a $131 million five-year levy that would have benefited county schools and the library. It would have generated $24 million in its first year with $21 million going to county schools and $3 million going to the library.

Library officials and supporters hope voters will be more receptive to a significantly smaller levy that only benefits the library system.

If the proposed levy passes, the library will be restored to its funding level before the Supreme Court ruling. If voters turn it down, drastic cuts might be made.

The library has already made a number of cuts in response to funding losses by shortening Sunday hours, canceling its annual book festival and not filling vacancies.

Library officials told the Daily Mail last year they might even close as many as six branches if attempts to pass a levy fail.

Officials will propose the levy when they make a formal presentation at the school board's regularly scheduled meeting on March 20.

The library is not a levying authority, hence the need to get help from the school board.

Engelbert expects the board to run the levy, but could go to the Kanawha County Commission if the request is denied.

"I hope it doesn't come to that," Engelbert said. "The board of education is the appropriate body to do that levy."

As for new building funds, they cannot be used to alleviate budget deficits.

The $18 million in donations is all pledged, but hasn't necessarily been paid yet. Any collected money is kept in a separate account managed by the Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., a separate, nonprofit organization that supports the library system.

Demolition of a downtown building started Tuesday near the new library's proposed site along Leon Sullivan Way between Lee and Quarrier Streets. A nearby sign that marked the future location of the Kanawha County Public Library also was removed.

Contact writer Samuel Speciale at sam.speciale@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4886. Follow him at twitter.com/wvschools.


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