The library has been in the news quite a bit lately, either for termites at the South Boston Public Library or for the potential budget reduction from Halifax County.
I would like to provide an update concerning the budget issue.
On March 7 I had an e-mail correspondence with a staff member at the Library of Virginia, and at that time I was told that the proposed budget cut to the library would lead to a loss of state funds, along with federal funds and other resources.
On March 8 I spoke with a different staff member at the Library of Virginia. I was informed by this person that the proposed cut would not impact the library's state funding, federal funding or any other resources received from the state.
In an e-mail sent to me from this individual, I was told that "we did not understand the depth and breadth of cuts in Halifax at that time. The Library of Virginia's Board makes the call on whose locality seems to be singling them out for funding cuts. The cuts made in Halifax, while not across the board and uneven, are broad enough to demonstrate revenue constraints in the locality, and yes, they can do this as often as they like as long as the circumstances are similar to these. When it gets dicey is when ONLY the library receives cuts or a disproportionate percentage compared to other locality departments/agencies."
Based upon what I was told by this person, it appears that a loss of state aid is not a concern at this time. However, as this person wrote, that is a decision that is ultimately made by the Library of Virginia's board.
My deep concern over local funding reductions comes not just from my position as the library director. It stems from personal prior experience in a similar situation.
In 2004 I was hired to be the director of the Rockingham County Public Library in Eden, North Carolina. When I was hired I was told that there had been concerns about local library funding by the State Library of North Carolina, but that these concerns had been addressed. Two months later our library lost all state aid.
Why did we lose state aid? Apparently, for several years during my predecessor’s tenure, Rockingham County had appropriated a sufficient amount of funds to the library, but immediately after appropriating the funds they were frozen and not allowed to actually be used for the library.
It took the State Library of North Carolina several years to figure out what was happening. The end result was a loss of well over $100,000 in state aid and resources for our library for a period of 18 months.
During this time the Rockingham County Public Library had to prove that it met a number of criteria to once again receive state aid and to be considered a public library in the eyes of the State Library of North Carolina.
Though the funding discrepancies occurred before my hiring, I was the library director when the penalties came down. Over the course of my 25-year career as a librarian, one of the accomplishments of which I am the most proud is of working with the staff and community to regain state aid and return the Rockingham County Public Library to solid financial footing.
I do not wish this situation on any library or community, especially Halifax County. This is why, after being told on March 7 that the proposed budget cut would result in a loss of further funds and resources, I worked to get the word out about the potential consequences.
Now, having spoken with another source at the Library of Virginia, it is my understanding that this proposed cut will not lead to a loss of state and federal funds, though the final decision on this rests with the board of the Library of Virginia.
So we are now in a good news/bad news situation.
The good news is that it appears that this proposed cut, if it remains in place, will not cause any reductions in state and federal funds.
The bad news is that, even if these cuts are not across the board and are uneven, they can continue to be made in the future as long as they are, in the words of one of my resources at the Library of Virginia, “broad enough to demonstrate revenue constraints in the locality.”
For FY 2016 the Halifax County-South Boston Public Library System had a per capita expenditure of $16.83 while the state average was almost double at $32.77.
For nearby libraries per capita expenditures were as follows: $19.50 for Charlotte County, $20.57 for Campbell County, $28.67 for Danville, $21.43 for Mecklenburg County and $19.92 for Pittsylvania County.
The Halifax County-South Boston Public Library System had the lowest level of per capita expenditures among these area libraries.
The Halifax County-South Boston Public Library System library comes out no better when looking at per capita expenditures for public libraries in Virginia serving a population of 30,000-40,000:
Smyth-Bland Regional $34.82
Samuels Public Library $32.81
Gloucester Public Library $31.92
Blue Ridge Regional Library $31.85
Orange County $30.80
Amherst County $23.07
Mecklenburg County $21.43
Galax-Carroll Regional $19.70
Pulaski County $19.21
Meherrin Regional $18.63
Halifax County-South Boston Public Library System $16.83
The sum total of the county’s proposed FY 2019 budget is $94,048,314. The amount the library is being cut is 0.01 percent of the county's overall budget, but it amounts to 5.1 percent of the library’s current funding from Halifax County.
The budget for the board of supervisors has a proposed cut of $150, which would be 0.0001 percent of the county’s proposed FY 2019 budget.
There is an oft-repeated quote that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” It is also the price for an adequately funded public library, one that is able to provide the services and programs needed within the community.
Please continue to support the Halifax County-South Boston Public Library System.
Jay Stephens is the director of the Halifax County South Boston Public Library.