Libraries and public parks are invaluable to their communities

August 1, 2023 6:00 am

A variety of books and resources are available at the Cabell County Public Library Main Branch in Huntington, West Virginia, on Thursday, July 27, 2023. In addition to the Main Branch, the Cabell County Library system has seven branches serving the communities of Barboursville, Cox Landing, Gallaher Village, Guyandotte, Milton, Salt Rock, and West Huntington. (Lexi Browning | West Virginia Watch)

Libraries are so important to their communities. 

Not only do they provide physical books, but they also have e-books, audiobooks, comics, CDs, movies and magazines. They have computers you can use for free if you don’t have a computer at home or an internet connection. They have printers, and how many people do you know who actually still own a printer? And if they do, is there even ink in it?

The Kanawha County Public Library even has a tool lending library to save do-it-yourselfers hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Libraries offer summer programs to keep kids reading and reward them for doing so — anyone else remember digging in that treasure chest when you hit a reading goal?

Libraries hold story times, an opportunity for both adults and children to get out of the house and socialize.

Libraries provide so much more than just books, like licensed social workers

The Cabell County Public Library even served as a cooling station last week, posting on Facebook, “Feel free to come in, enjoy our AC, and get a drink of water or a popsicle. We also have tons of books to keep you occupied while you chill out. Stay safe and cool out there, folks!”

However, the Cabell County Board of Education might be putting the future of Cabell County libraries and parks in danger when it holds a vote today at 4:30 p.m. to eliminate most of their financial support.

The Cabell County Schools Excess Levy provided $1.7 million to the Cabell County Public Library and $550,000 to the Greater Huntington Park & Recreation District in 2022.

The board’s proposed changes will eliminate all of the levy funds going to Greater Huntington Park & Recreation District and will give less than $200,000 to the Cabell County Public Library.

The Cabell County Public Library was created in 1967 by House Bill 801, which stated that the library “shall be supported by the board of education of the county of Cabell and the county court of Cabell County, as a joint endeavor of the two governing authorities in the manner hereinafter prescribed.” 

And in 1983, Senate Bill 569 stated that the Cabell County Board of education “shall provide funds available to the board through special and excess levies for the first year of the act and annually thereafter.”

According to the West Virginia Library Commission’s 2022 Statistical Report, Cabell County Public Library has a total operating income of $4,488,567. Of that amount, the Cabell County Board of Education provides $1,708,574 or about 38% of its budget.

A group of people sit on a stone barrier outside of the Ritter Park stone arch.
Andrea Gilkerson (from left to right) , Adara Sutton, Brooklyn Sutton, 10, Hayden Sutton, 6, Kiara Sutton, 13, and Loriona Gilkerson, 16, enjoy an afternoon at Ritter Park in Huntington, West Virginia, on Thursday, July 27, 2023.
(Lexi Browning | West Virginia Watch)

Some are questioning if the board can legally make this change, as H.B. 801 dictates that a certain percentage of the levy must go to the libraries, and S.B. 569 dictates how much goes to the parks. For example, S.B. 569 states, “The board of education of the county of Cabell shall provide funds available to the board through special and excess levies for the first year of the act and annually thereafter: Class one, .433 cents; class two, .866 cents; class three and class four, 1.73 cents.”

Cabell County Superintendent Ryan Saxe said the cuts are needed because of “inflationary costs, decreased state funding resulting from declining student enrollment and the coming loss of nearly $11 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding.”

The American Rescue Plan money was never meant to be permanent funding — it was meant to help get students back to in-person learning safely. 

That $2 million the board wants to take away isn’t really going to make up that $11 million gap, but it will severely hurt the libraries and parks to lose that money.

If the board approves the approximately $29 million excess levy order tonight, which it is expected to do, it will be sent to a public vote in the May 2024 primary election. If approved, the levy order would then go into effect July 1, 2025.

The loss of funding would cascade to the other seven branches in the county and public libraries in Logan, Mason, Mingo, Putnam and Wayne counties that the Cabell library serves. 

Cabell County libraries system has the third largest service population in the state, with 96,319 people. Only Kanawha and Berkeley counties serve more people.

Cabell County libraries has the third highest number of annual users of public internet resources, most likely because the surrounding rural areas either don’t have internet access or don’t have enough money to have a computer with internet access. 

The funding cuts could not only result in reduction in staff or hours, but libraries could be closed. But even if all seven branches were closed, the $1 million that saves wouldn’t be enough to close the budget gap, Browning said.

And I’ve barely even touched on the parks. What happens when it loses a large chunk of funding? No Zoo Camp? No more Recreation Wagon? What about maintenance of the playgrounds, picnic shelters, pickle ball and tennis courts?

In a state where so many live in poverty, we can’t lose free services that so many depend on like our parks and libraries.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Leann Ray
Leann Ray

Leann Ray is a lifelong West Virginian. Her work at the Daily Athenaeum and Charleston Gazette-Mail has won numerous awards. She is a graduate of West Virginia University.