VALDESE — When the Valdese Town Council convenes on June 29, they’ll hold a public hearing for a proposed budget that eliminates town funding for the Burke County Public Library’s Valdese branch.
The proposal slashes funding of $40,000 in the current fiscal year of 2019-20 all the way to $0 for 2020-21. Town Manager Seth Eckard said the move was one of several implemented in the budget proposal.
“The Valdese Town Council supports the Burke County Library branch located in Valdese,” Eckard said in an email to The News Herald. “For decades, the town has been in a fortunate financial position where we have been able to donate to the Burke County service. The town’s donation is above and beyond what Valdese taxpayers are already paying for the library through their Burke County tax bill.
“Budgeting during COVID-19 has been tough. To ensure that core services are adequately funded, we have had to defer capital projects to future years, not fund any cost of living adjustment for our employees and reduce the amount we donate to outside organizations. We hope that these economic conditions are temporary. My proposal to the town council is that we revisit the library donation in the second half of fiscal year ’20-21. If sales tax revenues are higher than we project, then we may partially or fully restore the library donation.”
Figures in the budget proposal show that Valdese funding to the public library had been $50,000 per year in previous fiscal years. Jim Wilson, director of the Burke County Public Library, told Burke County Manager Bryan Steen in an email that he had anticipated that figure when preparing the library budget.
Without the town’s funding, Wilson estimates that hours of operation, staffing and funding for the Valdese branch will have to be scaled down.
“I am prepared to make adjustments to the library’s budget to account for this loss in funding,” Wilson wrote. “Those adjustments would include a reduction in staffing and funds for books (and) programming for the Valdese site.
“A reduction in staffing would also require a reduction in hours based on their usual schedule of being open six days and two nights a week. Right now, Valdese is open five days and one night a week under the modified COVID-19 schedule. With a reduction in staff, their schedule would likely need to remain as is even as Morganton and C.B. Hildebrand returned to a full schedule of hours.”
Wilson told The News Herald that the town’s funding generally has accounted for nearly 1/5 of the Valdese branch’s total operating costs. The public library system already has begun planning and discussing changes that will be made if the town moves forward with eliminating funding.
“For the past several years, the level of operational support from the town of Valdese for the Valdese Public Library has been $50,000 per year,” he said. “On average, that support amounts to just over 17 percent of the total cost to operate the Valdese Public Library each year. For fiscal year 2019-20, that support was reduced to $40,000, and if the town’s proposed budget is approved as is, that support will drop to $0 for fiscal year 2020-21.
“To absorb the $10,000 reduction for this year (2019-20), the book budget was cut and we purchased fewer books. If the town’s support drops to $0, my recommendation will be to reduce staffing starting with our part-time positions. We have discussed that possibility with our part-time staff. The loss of staff at the Valdese Public Library would necessitate a significant reduction of hours of up to two days a week and a reduction of programs for all ages, including weekly story times.”
Wilson said that though he is keeping the county abreast of the situation, he doesn’t plan on calling on Steen, his staff and the county commissioners to step up to the plate to fill the funding void. He believes the town has a responsibility to maintain its funding.
“As library director, I can’t make that decision for the county, but I do not plan to ask the county to make up the difference,” Wilson said. “Over the past 10 years, the county has steadily increased its support to the library increasing the book budgets to the best the library has ever had, providing additional funds for library programming, adding staff to support the new library it built in Hildebran, providing funds for capital improvements at the Morganton Public Library, and providing over $500,000 in support of the renovation and expansion of the Valdese Public Library that was completed in 2019.
“As the town of Valdese jointly owns the Valdese Public Library with Burke County, I think that obliges the town to provide adequate and ongoing support for the library. Just as the county, the town’s financial support for the Valdese Public Library extends back decades. The library can reasonably manage budget reductions in trying times, but losing all financial support from such a major contributor as the town of Valdese will have a significant impact on the library.”
Wilson said the library system receives funding from the city of Morganton as the co-owner of the Morganton Public Library. And even though the county solely owns the C.B. Hildebrand Public Library in Hildebran, the town of Hildebran contributes to the library, as well. The towns of Drexel and Rutherford College also help fund the Burke County Public Library.
In 2019-20, library funding included $1,108,775 from Burke County, $230,000 from Morganton, $40,000 from Valdese, $5,000 from Hildebran, and $2,000 apiece from Drexel and Rutherford College, Wilson said.
Elsewhere in the Valdese proposed budget, the property tax rate is scheduled to remain at 54.5 cents per $100 of value, according to Eckard’s budget letter to the town council. Eckard’s proposed total of the 2020-21 operating and capital budget is $11,378,024. That includes a total general fund budget of $6,339,043 and a total utility fund budget of $5,038,981.
“The preparation of this budget arrives at a time of unprecedented uncertainty,” Eckard wrote. “A pandemic has been declared across the globe and is changing the face of the world at a rapid pace. With consideration of these current economic conditions, our team presents a balanced budget that addresses current and future goals — without jeopardizing services to our residents.
“The proposed budget fulfills council’s vision to increase street resurfacing, repairing aging infrastructure and setting aside funds for the future needs of the Public Safety Building.”
The town’s recycling fee is increasing $1 per month in the budget proposal. Eckard said Republic Services’ contract for recycling and trash pickup is going up by $12,000 in the upcoming fiscal year. The proposed $1 sanitation fee increase will generate approximately $12,000 of additional revenue, he said.
The proposed budget also includes a 4 percent increase in utility fees, including water and sewer. Eckard said that increase is part of the town’s 10-year utility capital improvement plan. He said the increase will allow the town to implement year four of the plan to ensure quality water for its residents and industry. The increase in rates also will enable the town to continue repairing its aging infrastructure, he said.
The June 29 public hearing, which also will serve as the town council’s July meeting, will start at 6 p.m. in the council chambers of the Valdese Town Hall, located at 102 Massel Ave. S.W.
Justin Epley is a staff writer for The News Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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