Local library funding unaffected by court ruling

PARKERSBURG – Officials in Kanawha County are scrambling to find funds after the state Supreme Court ruled last week a law forcing the Kanawha County Board of Education to fund its public library is unconstitutional. Officials in Wood County said things here should remain the same.

Brian Raitz, director of the Parkersburg and Wood County Public Library, said while Wood County is also a special act county, the board of education funds the library through an excess levy. According to Sue Woodward, assistant superintendent of Wood County Schools, the system’s excess levy provides $434,630 a year.

That amount won’t change for at least two years, according to Raitz, who said voters’ approval of the excess levy will continue to provide funds through 2015.

“The Supreme Court ruling won’t change that,” he said. “The voters voted on it as an excess levy and it details how the money is distributed.”

Raitz said until the library had an excess levy with the board of education, the board of education was responsible for 30 percent of overall funding.

Recently, the court declared a 1957 special act that requires Kanawha County to give a portion of its budget each year to the local library system creates unequal treatment and is therefore null and void. Similar laws have provided libraries in nine other counties with funding from school boards.

The decision came 10 years after the Kanawha County school board first sued the library over the matter.

In addition to the Kanawha County school board, Berkeley, Hardy, Harrison, Ohio, Raleigh, Tyler, Upshur, Wood and Cabell county school boards have been required by law for more than 50 years to financially support libraries.

Raitz said in Wood County the board of education, the county commission and city levy at a certain rate in the regular levy.

The city of Parkersburg will contribute $212,000 to the library system next fiscal year. The county plugs in more than $290,000.

City officials said state law requires a percentage of collected property tax go to the library. Mayor Bob Newell said city officials have not been notified of any change.

Board of Education President Tim Yeater said a change in funding- at this point- is a non-issue. And there are no immediate plans to address the matter.

“We have not even begun to have a conversation like that,” he said.

Library and school officials said they have fostered a great relationships with one another.

Raitz said the library and board of education relationship goes back to 1905. Yeater acknowledged voters could change their mind.

The excess levy funding sits at 80 percent. It could be increased to 100 percent, which would generate an additional $4 million a year. Woodward said all the county’s schools have libraries, except Waverly uses the attached branch of the public library.

Woodward said the board of education will likely go to voters to again renew the levy, which has been in place since 1945.

“In that levy the board will have determine the purpose of the levy for the next five years.”

With the school system needing millions for roof repairs and a new elementary school, Yeater said it’s not out of the question for someone to come to a meeting and inquire.

“There are certain things not funded in the system. A person could make a pretty good argument that if the state says you no longer have to do this, why are you doing it?” Yeater said.