Residents plead for library funds

Published 9:09 am Wednesday, June 13, 2012

FRANKLIN—Nine-year-old Knox Butler told City Council on Monday that the Ruth Camp Campbell Memorial library is one of his favorite places. He also urged members to allocate funds to maintain its current hours.

“I know $33,000 is a lot of money,” the S.P. Morton Elementary School third-grader told council members. “I just hope you’ll find a way to get the money the library needs. I don’t want it to be closed.”

Knox was among seven to speak in favor of funding the branch the $261,780 it asked for during a public hearing on the city’s proposed $52 million 2012-2013 budget. The city has proposed giving the library $228,686.

The difference of about $33,000 could force the library to cut some of its evening and Saturday hours, library officials said.

The city budget includes a 14-cent or 18.2 percent increase in real estate taxes. This means the owner of property valued at $140,000 would pay $1,146 in taxes next year, or $68 more than this year. Raising the tax rate from 77 cents to 91 cents would generate $283,000 in additional revenue for city coffers. The tax increase is needed to offset an 8.9 percent drop in property values.

Library Manager Bonnie Roblin presented Council with a petition with 1,100 signatures in support of full library funding.

“They see library resources as central to their lives,” Roblin said.

Knox told Council the library helped him win an award for being the top reader at his school.

“The library has thousands of books for me to choose,” he said. “Some of the best books I’ve ever read have come from the library.”

The $33,000 increase would be used for personnel costs for the library’s three full-time and six part-time employees, City Manager Randy Martin said.

Library employees haven’t received raises since 2008, said Blackwater Regional Library Director Yvonne Hilliard-Bradley. Employees received bonuses last year.

The library also gets help from about 30 to 40 volunteers, Hilliard-Bradley said.

Barbara Edwards, president of the Friends of the Library, said the group raises an average of $7,000 a year for programs and maintaining the building, but the money can’t be used for salaries.

The budget for all libraries in the Blackwater Library System increased by $133,000 over last year. Franklin’s share increased by one percent while Southampton County’s share decreased by one percent, said Councilman Barry Cheatham.

He added that the circulation dropped by nearly 10,000 in the county and dropped by less than 2,000 in the city last year.

Cheatham supports the library, but feels the city is being penalized because the county’s library cut its hours last year.

“Because someone else is being cut, are we being penalized?” he asked. “I think we are.”

Councilman Greg McLemore believes the library provides an important service, which he uses.

Mayor Jim Councill supports giving the library the $33,000 and suggested using part of the $455,564 in reserve funds to fund it and other agencies’ requests.

“Golly Moses, that’s a community service,” Councill said of the library. “We ought to use taxpayer money to fund it, it’s a public library.”

Councill also hopes the city can fund other agencies’ requests that weren’t funded or partially funded last year.

The Genieve Shelter, a home for battered women, is asking the city for $5,000 this year. The city gave $1,000 last year. The Virginia Legal Aid Society is asking for $2,695. It wasn’t funded last year. The Boys & Girls Club requested $10,000; it went unfunded last year.

Smart Beginnings of Western Tidewater asked for $30,000. The organization was given $7,000 last year. The Western Tidewater Free Clinic requested $25,500 and was given .$2,000 last year.

“My feeling is these are agencies that provide invaluable services to people in Franklin,” Councill said.

The council will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 14, in City Hall to discuss the budget.