The Cabell County Board of Education has scheduled a meeting at 4:30 pm Tuesday, August 1st to discuss their excess levy and how proceeds will be allocated to the library system and Greater Huntington Parks and Recreation District (GHPRD).
The Board of Education has already undergone fiscal “belt-tightening” from the loss of $11 million in federal ARP funds, lower enrollment, and rising costs of food, materials, and other inflationary changes. These actions resulted in the elimination of some 80 employees this year. The Board has proposed a significantly lower amount for the library and parks. However, this amount matches the funding recommended by the state.
The GHPRD receives around $600,000 per year from the Board of Education or the equivalent of ten teachers. The Cabell County Library system receives around $1.4 million per year. Combined the amounts represent about 3% of the county’s budget for teacher salaries, a line item that has increased by over 18% over the past 5 years.
According to the WV Library Commission’s 2022 Report, the Cabell County Library system has a service population of 96,319 and 65 Full-Time Equivalent employees. The library ranks fourth in the state by population behind Kanawha, Berkeley, and Monongalia and is followed by Wood County in fifth place.
Overall the library budget is comparable to Kanawha County. However, Berkeley, Monongalia, and Wood Counties take much less of their funding from the Board of Education. What is also noteworthy is that in all the other top 5 counties, the Average Employee Compensation is almost 20% higher.
The Cabell Library’s reports also show they receive the lowest amount in the state from the city with only $50,774 contributed vs $1.8 million from the county, and $1.4 million from the Board of Education.
Libraries have become a resource for homeless people who rely on public libraries as a safe haven where they can stay warm, use public restrooms, and avoid law enforcement. In many cases, libraries are on the front lines of the homelessness crisis. In West Virginia, and specifically in Huntington the opioid epidemic has severely escalated the homeless population requiring these services. This fact explains why the Cabell County library has a higher program attendance than all of the top 3 counties combined.
New funding sources are becoming available through opioid settlement distribution programs. The Cabell Board of Education’s proposal for the reduction in funding appears to be proportional to the services its students are consuming versus the community action requirements that the library has now been forced to adopt.
Each community in the county uses their libraries differently. Barboursville has a new library across the street from the elementary school which is easily accessible to students. The main library downtown has a very different set of users which includes a significant amount of patrons who come to the library because it acts as a hub for community services.
Because the levy comes to a vote once every 5 years, taking action now may be a strategic move by the Board of Education that actually benefits the library system in the long run.