Library Funding Decision Delayed

WHEELING – The Ohio County Board of Education plans to discuss future funding for the Ohio County Public Library in the coming weeks before the district approves its 2013-14 budget in late spring.

Next year’s school budget should be finalized and voted on by the board in May, according to Superintendent Dianna Vargo.

“Until we meet as a board, that’s a decision the board has to make,” board member Gary Kestner said. “I’m sure Dr. Vargo will schedule that in a meeting. That’s when I’d like to voice my opinion – when we hold an open meeting.”

The district’s 2012-13 budget shows that funding for community service programs including the Ohio County Public Library makes up less than 1 percent of the schools’ expenditures. Total expenditures are listed at $57,669,029.

There are 97 public libraries in West Virginia, according to Ohio County Public Library Director Dottie Thomas. She said of those 97 facilities, the Ohio County Library in downtown Wheeling is one of only a few libraries in the state to receive such “dedicated funding” under law.

In 1957, legislation was enacted that required nine specific county boards of education to divert a portion of their regular levy receipts to support their local public libraries. These counties included Ohio and Tyler counties locally, as well as Kanawha, Berkeley, Hardy, Harrison, Raleigh, Upshur and Wood counties.

School boards in these counties have been required to give 3 cents for every $100 in assessed property value in the county to their local public library. Libraries, themselves, do not have the authority to levy a tax the way a board of education or other government body can, Thomas continued.

Kanawha County Board of Education filed a court case in 2003 opposing the obligation of specific school boards to turn over a portion of their levy funds to their public library, according to Supreme Court filings. The board of education won its case before the state Supreme Court in 2006, but the court also put a stay on the ruling until the West Virginia Legislature could make changes to the law.

But the Kanawha County Board of Education again filed suit, stating it still was unfair that only a few, selected school districts were mandated to support their local public library. The high court again ruled in favor of the Kanawha County Board of Education on Feb. 22.

The Ohio County Public Library receives more than $500,000, or about 40 percent of its budget, from Ohio County Schools each year. However, the recent ruling by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals states school districts are no longer obligated give funds to local public libraries. That decision has put the future of the library’s operating budget in question.

According to Vargo, Ohio County Schools paid the library $532,932 for the 2011-12 school year.