Facilities will close next year if it fails

ROMNEY — The library levy is going back on the fall ballot after failing by a small margin in the primary, the County Commission agreed unanimously at their Tuesday meeting.

If the 2nd try fails, both the Hampshire County Public Library and the Capon Bridge Public Library expect to close by the beginning of the next fiscal year, July 1, 2021.

The library levy costs the average county homeowner less than $20 a year, and Commission President Bob Hott said he was surprised it had not passed. The libraries had even lowered the levy this time, making it less expensive for property owners.

Levies require 60-percent approval to pass, and Hampshire County Public Library Board President Steve Moreland reported that after the last mail-in ballots were counted, the levy was just short, with 57.95 percent. The difference was 99 votes.

Losing the levy cut library budgets 60 percent on just 3 weeks’ notice, for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Both libraries face difficult decisions as they look for cuts that might allow them to survive the coming year.

Even if the levy passes in November, it will not go into effect until July 1 next year, and in the meantime the libraries must find a way to get by on just 40 percent of their normal funding.

The Hampshire County Public Library has a fund set aside for repairs and capital improvements that it can draw on to stay open until next July, Moreland said. They will still need to cut back somewhere, he added, and though they do not want to cut staff or hours, they may have to do so.

Capon Bridge Public Library Board Chairwoman Barbara Sirbaugh reported that her library lacks the “slush fund” available to the Romney library, and said she saw no way they could survive the year on 40 percent of their normal budget. She agreed to return to ask the county commission for help after the Capon Bridge board decides what they will need to get through the year.

The library boards are also faced with the state library commission’s June 30 deadline for submission of their budgets, though Moreland believed they would cut Hampshire County some slack, given the unexpected loss of the levy.

What cuts can be made to allow the libraries to survive to July 1, 2021, even if the levy passes on its 2nd try, will be the big question.

The HCPL board will be continuing work on a budget this week, aided by a list of possible cuts librarian Megan Shanholtz gave them last week that include cuts in hours, materials, programs and repairs. She was concerned that opening will bring new expenses — for gloves, masks and cleaning supplies, and said she was not sure how the library could survive on 40 percent of the annual budget.

While cutting services, the HCPL library board also must find funds for some essential repairs, though they will try to keep these to a minimum. Some planned work on the library restrooms will be put on hold - but a fixture in the ladies’ room must be replaced, and there is a leak in the men’s room.

More important, gutters not draining properly have damaged the building, causing falling plaster from a deteriorating roof underhang, and this must be dealt with without waiting for next year’s budget.

Shanholtz received an estimate of $24,000 to recover the library’s rubber roofing, fix the drainage problem and probably replace the fallen plaster, and will seek additional estimates.

Even if the levy passes, getting through the year will be a struggle. Members of both boards were concerned that the forced closing due to COVID-19 may have allowed some people to forget how much the library does, not just in checking out books and materials, but also the free computers and internet access, the databases and materials that can be accessed with home computers, the programming, the educational support and activities for children, the free space for meetings, the copy machines and free public notary service.

They are determined to continue doing as much as possible through the coming year, and hope things will return to normal next July.

But first, the library levy must pass.

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