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Ohio County Public Library Director Laments Budget Reduction

WHEELING — The Wheeling-Ohio County Board of Education’s vote earlier this week to reduce funding to the Ohio County Public Library by a third is expected to negatively impact the facility’s ability to continue its outreach programs and provide resources, according to the library’s director.

At Monday’s meeting, the board voted 3-2 to reduce the funding provided to the library for the coming fiscal year from 3 cents per $100 of assessed property value to 2 cents. This will cut the funding to be contributed to the library from about $884,547 a year to $589,698.

Board President David Croft said later that the money saved from that funding reduction will go to filling in where necessary on the $76 million in property improvement projects in progress around the district.

Building material costs have increased since voters approved a $42.2 million bond issue in 2018, Croft said, and projects were complicated when funding from the West Virginia School Building Authority was delayed.

Library Director Dottie Thomas said the Board of Education and the Ohio County Commission were relatively equal in the funding they provided — $940,605 from the commission this year, compared to $908,324 from the school board. In this year, each contributed around 40% of the library’s budget, with the remaining approximately 20% coming from state funding and “miscellaneous” funds, such as proceeds from book sales, photocopies, donations, and other sources.

If the library had received the full funding it had expected from the board, its budget would have come in at $2,035,187. Without that nearly $300,000, the budget for the next fiscal year fell to $1,740,339, more than 14% smaller.

The consequences of receiving less funding, Thomas said, may include a reduced ability to undertake outreach programs or limiting the databases available to library patrons.

“It’s going to mean a cutback in resources for sure,” Thomas said. “How many books we can buy, how many downloadable collections, and how many databases we have available for patrons to use. … It will probably mean some reduction in programming, and resources that can go out in outreach to the community, like through the schools and to people who are homebound.”

One outreach effort in particular Thomas was happy to point out was their children’s specialist, Lee Ann Cleary, now spends roughly half her time visiting children at schools throughout the county, reading to children at story time.

At Monday’s meeting, school board president David Croft said the board would re-evaluate next year to see where their financial situation was, and again decide at what rate to fund the library. At that time, library treasurer Greg Marquart said he hoped the district would consider funding them back to the 3-cent amount.

Thomas said the library needs the 3-cent funding structure to continue providing the services the community is accustomed to.

“Because of the size of this building, the size of the community, because of all the different services and functions that we provide, we definitely need that 3 cents, and we’ll have to make cuts as a result,” she said.

Thomas also wished to correct misinformation she saw spreading on social media regarding the library’s financial situation. She said some people are under the impression that the library “returns” $70,000 to the school district because it goes unused. This is incorrect, Thomas said, explaining that the library provides classrooms with books that they purchase as library materials, one of the outreach efforts the library conducts throughout the county.

Additionally, she sought to correct the idea that the library has excess funds between fiscal years. While there is some carryover, it’s kept on hand in case of emergencies or to keep up with the regular, costly maintenance the large facility demands.

“The library, since it can’t levy taxes, needs money for capital improvements, to maintain the building,” she said. “Yes, there’s money, but I’d gladly share with the public any time what it costs to maintain over the years. We got a new roof, and it was … a little under $278,000,” Thomas said.

“We did that a few years ago, but here’s the point — do we have carryover funds sometimes from year to year, yes,” she added. “But we need a source of income to turn to when the building needs maintained. This building is almost 50 years old now, opened in the spring of ’73. It’s a big building, 54,000 square feet. It takes a lot to maintain it.”

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