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Kanawha, Charleston intend to maintain funding to library

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The remaining primary sources of funding for the Kanawha County Public Library -- the city of Charleston and the Kanawha County Commission -- do not have plans to follow in the county Board of Education's footsteps by pulling funding, but the library's financial fate is still unclear.

By law, a library cannot tax the public directly but can receive funding from three entities that can tax: local boards of education, municipalities and county commissions.

In 1957, a special act was passed mandating that Kanawha's school board set aside a portion of its budget for the public library. Nine other counties have had similar laws.

Last week, the state Supreme Court struck down the 1957 special act, saying it was unconstitutional because it creates a lack of uniformity in the state's educational financing system.

In Kanawha County, that means if the school board chooses to pull all of its funding, the library will lose about 40 percent of its roughly $8 million annual budget.

Right now, contributions from the County Commission make up another 40 percent of the library's budget, while tax revenues from the city cover the remaining 20 percent.

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper both said they do not intend to ask the court to be freed from funding the library. Both also agreed that the library can't survive on its own.

"I didn't recommend that the commission involve themselves in this lawsuit because, frankly, it would destroy the library system," Carper said. "This has done incredible harm to the library system. If they didn't have funding from us, there'd be no library."

Jones said in his nearly 10 years in office, the city of Charleston has given about $9 million to the library.

"I don't know if anybody on [City] Council wants to go to court to try to stop that. We support the library, but they've got some real problems right now, and I don't know how we're going to solve them," he said.

The mayor said he doesn't have a problem continuing to contribute to library services, but providing any more money would be an issue.

"I don't plan any changes in what we give right now, and we'll certainly keep up the status quo," Jones said. "But, if it's tampered with at this end by anybody that wants us to give more, I would say that would fire up some people."

Carper said "the law is the law," but he had already reached out to library officials by Monday afternoon.

At a time when statewide education reform is at the forefront, the loss of library services could hit students hard.

"We've recognized the serious problem with education in the state, and one of the cornerstones of [Governor Tomblin's] initiative is the known failure rate if children aren't reading at grade level, and the damage it can cause for life. That's putting it mildly," he said. "If this is about money, what's cheaper: to teach our children how to read so that we have an educated work force, or to do stuff like this?"

The Kanawha County Public Library's board of directors will hold a special meeting Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the library's John V. Ray Room to consider possible solutions to last week's decision.

"We need to deal with the aftermath," Kanawha County Public Library Director Alan Engelbert said. "Boards of education voluntarily provide funding to libraries in almost every county in the state. It's not always a huge amount, but it's something.

"We'll be talking to any funding authorities and options that remain. While the school board under the ruling is no longer mandated to provide funding to the library legally, it can voluntarily. And it's certainly our intention to explore that."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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