VALDESE — In a change of plans, the Valdese Town Council voted to include funding in its budget for the Valdese Public Library Monday night in the council chambers at the town hall. The proposed budget did not include any funding for the library branch after the 2019-20 included $40,000 in funding, which was down from $50,000 in previous years.
Roy Sweezy made a motion that the council appropriate funds from various recreation activities that were cancelled due to the pandemic, such as Family Friday Night concerts. The motion was seconded by Frances Hildebran.
In discussion, Mayor Pro-Tem Susan Stevenson offered her disapproval of the funding.
“Right now, we don’t know how much funding we’re going to have,” she said. “We have lots of different needs. I think we need to do a little more investigation on where our funds are going when they go to the library, and making sure we get full benefits from that. We’re not assured if we take this money from our Friday Nights, we may have to have it to pay the fire department, or the police, or pay for essential things. I’d love to fund the library. It is a very essential thing, but I think there are safety issues and other essentials that we’re going to have to have, and it’s too early to tie up our funds right now.”
Hildebran said this is her ninth budget since being on the council.
“Every year when we come to this lineup in the budget, we have to bring it up almost like a debate,” Hildebran said. “There at one time used to be an agreement in the county, and that agreement held over a period of 10 or so years. I would like to recommend that our management, the (town) manager (Seth Eckard) and our finance director (Bo Weichel) meet with the county manager and the (Burke County Public) Library Director (Jim Wilson) and see if we can come up with some kind of agreement. I even recommend that since we can’t identify what the money is used for, that in the agreement we come up with specific uses for that money.
“I think that would be very prudent,” Hildebran said. “It’s our responsibility and due diligence as a council to do something to this respect, because this (library funding issue) keeps coming up, and it brings a lot of conflict within our community.”
In response to Hildebran’s recommendation, Eckard and Weichel have reached out to the library director to “begin active discussions for a long-term agreement,” according to Eckard.
Hildebran asked Eckard how the town planned to fund the library.
Eckard said the town plans to use some savings from the cancellation of the remainder of the Family Friday Night Series from 2020 — which will not affect 2021.
The town also has money set aside in the public works department budget for Christmas lights, which would generate about $10,000 in library funding.
Lastly, there are “miscellaneous funds” to round the library’s funding out to $40,000, including money allotted for the Burke County Board of Elections.
Mayor Chip Black said he believes the library funding “sends the wrong message” to town employees, whose cost of living increase would be denied to them in order to fund the library.
“The people who sit around this room have proclaimed on many occasions that our most valuable asset is our employees,” Black said. “We’re telling our employees that we don’t have enough money to give them a cost of living increase. I believe that if you’re going to fund a library, you need to find the dollars to provide our employees with the cost of living increase.”
Keith Ogle and Stevenson voted against the motion. As for the adoption of the budget ordinance itself, Ogle and Stevenson voted against the adoption also, while the rest of the council approved.
The council unanimously approved the adoption of the 2020-21 fee schedules, general fund capital improvement plan and the utility capital improvements plan.
Weichel reached out to Wilson to inquire about the Valdese library’s funding. The informational sources were “a mix of Wilson, (Burke) County Finance Director (Margaret Pierce) and some financial reports,” Weichel said in his report.
Weichel said he asked about a proposed budget for each library branch.
“What I found is the county does not have a separate budget for each branch, other than a few specific categories,” Weichel said. “The majority of the proposed budget is lumped together from the library system as a whole.”
Weichel said the second question he asked was about a breakdown in Valdese Library salaries. Though he was not provided with the salary information, he did receive a listing of the staff for the Valdese branch. In total, there are four full-time employees, including two library assistants and two library program specialists. There are two part-time employees, a library page and a library assistant.
Weichel said he asked about the methods used to determine how revenues are distributed to each branch. In response, he learned that there is no allocation formula for determining these distributions.
He also asked for a report detailing the Valdese Library branch users’ activity, he said.
“The data I was given has shown that 1,077 current cardholders are Valdese citizens,” Weichel said. “Of this amount, 465 cardholders have been active within the past six months. Over the past three years, 1,048 cardholders have checked out at least one item from the Valdese branch. We used three years due to the impact on the buyers this year and the renovations last year may have skewed the data, so we wanted to get a solid year in there somewhere.”
Weichel said the report did not indicate how many cardholders came to use library facilities, such as the computers.
In other news:
» Council unanimously passed a motion to adopt a resolution for support of application to the 2021 Recreational Trails Program grant, which would allow the town to compete five miles of trails at Lakeside Park.
» Valdese Recreation Director Doug Knight announced the Valdese Recreation Center’s Bubble at its pool will remain open throughout the summer, though it will maintain limited hours and capacity.
Knight said reasons include that the town is trying to save revenues and the issue of not being able to safely social distance while taking the Bubble down and put it back up.
» Council unanimously passed a resolution of a tentative award for the water treatment plan disinfection conversion project. The treatment would consist of a liquid bleach solution to disinfect and convert the chlorine, which could potentially cause health hazards to workers and the public. The tentative award is for $676,600.
The next council meeting is scheduled for Aug. 3.
Johnny Casey can be reached at email@example.com or 828-432-8907.
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