Wood library funding not an issue like elsewhere in state

PARKERSBURG – While a court battle rages in Kanawha County regarding public library funding by boards of education, Wood County does not have to worry about the outcome ending the system’s funding.

Kanawha and nine other county school boards, including Wood County, are now required by law to allocate parts of their budgets to public libraries. It’s been that way for those nine counties since 1957.

Brian Raitz, director of the Parkersburg and Wood County Public Library, said while Wood County is also a special act county, the board of education funds the library through an excess levy, not the general levy.

“In Wood County the board of education, the county commission and city levy at a certain rate in a regular levy,” he said. “As a result of the 2006 lawsuit in Kanawha County, Senate Bill 541 allowed counties to transfer money from the regular levy to an excess levy at the same amount.”

Raitz said Wood County made the change four years ago.

“We’ve always had a good relation with board of education; unfortunately Kanawha County does not have such a good relationship,” he said. “In our last excess levy with the county commission the Wood County Board of Education passed a resolution in favor of the levy.”

Raitz said library officials across the state are watching the Kanawha County case and its effects could be felt throughout the state. Raitz said until the library had an excess levy with the board of education, the board of education was responsible for 30 percent of overall funding.

Raitz said the library and board of education relationship goes back to 1905.

“The old Carnegie Library was supported completely by board of education until a separate library board was set up in 1967 creating the current library with city and county funding,” he said. “Before 1967 the library employees were board of education employees.”

Raitz said while the city had a library before 1905, to get funding from Andrew Carnegie, a local entity had to be involved.

“The city and board of education applied and board of education was picked,” he said. “Parkersburg has helped preserve a library since the 1890s.”

Raitz said Wood County’s library funding is safe until the excess levy comes up again.

An attorney for the Kanawha County Board of Education told the state Supreme Court Wednesday nothing has changed since a 2006 High Court ruling and the local school board is still being unfairly forced to allocate millions of dollars to the Kanawha County Public Library.

The 10-year funding battle was back before the court for oral arguments. The High Court sided with the local school boards in a ruling more than six years ago but Kanawha County School Board attorney Albert Sebok told justices Wednesday very little has changed even though the Legislature adjusted how tax monies go to the counties. He says the nine counties are still left with losing money.

“The non-special act counties don’t have to give that two to three million dollars a year to their libraries. They can basically give all of it to their classrooms,” Sebok said.

Christopher Winton, Kanawha County Library Board attorney, said funding should stay in place. He says the Legislature has already determined libraries are educational and the Legislature has more power than a county school board.

“It can’t sue its creator, the Legislature, merely to complain that it didn’t get enough funding,” Winton told the justices.

Sebok says the school isn’t against public libraries and believes they aid education but he says it’s wrong to force some counties to fund them and some not.

“Why are these nine counties different than these 46 others?” Sebok asked.

The state Supreme Court is expected to hand down a written opinion later this year. The school board won the case at the circuit court level and the library board appealed.