Williams: Vance should spend more on library

Questions about local funding for the H. Leslie Perry Memorial Library are unlikely to be resolved by the latest letter from City Manager Eric Williams to County Manager Jerry Ayscue and library director Jeanne Fox.

It probably will take a meeting between the Henderson City Council and the Vance County Board of Commissioners to resolve the library differences, Williams said in a brief interview Tuesday afternoon.

The primary issue is whether the city and county should split the local portion of the library budget 50-50. Ayscue takes the position that the even split between the city and county has worked for a long time and should continue, especially in light of the city’s decision to build a new home for the library without the county’s help or input. Williams, by contrast, says Henderson goes far beyond what should be expected of a city in supporting a county library, regardless of where the library is located, and he notes that city voters in 1951 approved a referendum allowing up to 3 cents of the property tax rate to be dedicated to the library.

The funding decision takes on far greater importance as the library prepares to move into its Embassy Square location. Budget projections show that the new library will need about $1 million per year from the local governments, double the amount appropriated in 2004-05.

Fox requested $348,417 each from the city and county for the current fiscal year, based on the expectation of spending the final four months of the fiscal year in the new building.

Ayscue cut that amount to $300,000 by assuming only two months in the new building, and the library’s board of trustees didn’t complain about the change.

Williams, however, proposed that the city spend only $253,208 this fiscal year. That amount was meant to represent 3 cents of the city property tax, plus an increase for two months in the new building on Breckenridge Street.

The eventual city appropriation for the library this year was $277,742, or $22,458 less than the county budgeted.

“My intention,” Ayscue said Tuesday, “is to match the city.” That’s what he discussed with the commissioners during budget work sessions, and that’s how he will proceed unless the board instructs him to do otherwise.

That would mean a city-county budget contribution of $555,484 to the library, compared with $500,000 in 2004-05 and a request for $696,834 this year.

Ayscue restated his intention hours after reading Williams’ latest letter on library funding. Williams sent the letter to Ayscue and Fox on Friday after consultation with the council’s Finance and Intergovernmental Relations Committee last week.

“My purpose in writing is to advise of the City’s final actions with respect to Library funding, which were approved in the City’s adopted ’05-’06 budget and, Jerry, in your case, to set forth a rationale for our thinking in this regard,” Williams wrote. “The Mayor, our Finance Committee and the full Council are aware of the thinking described in this letter.”

That thinking would keep the city appropriation at $277,742 but increase the county’s library budget to $323,258, for a total of $601,000.

In 2001-02, the city contributed $14,508 more to the library than the county did, and Henderson was $8,750 ahead of Vance in 2002-03. Williams suggests in his letter that the county reconcile those shortfalls by adding $23,258 for the library this year.

“Clearly, the pattern of a pure 50-50 funding did not occur in the fiscal years outlined above, thus ’05-’06 should be seriously considered as described above,” Williams wrote.

The city manager explained Tuesday that the county could justify boosting its contribution this year to balance the shortfall of previous years. As a precedent, Williams cited $70,000 in back landfill fees that the city agreed to pay the county in mid-2004, even though the error stretching back to 1995 was a failure of the county to issue proper invoices.

“One could reasonably conclude that after budget adoption the reconciliation of prior discrepancies in funding has an existing precedent, which it would seem to suggest (particularly for something as fundamentally important as the Library) would be favorably considered,” Williams wrote.

Williams said in an interview Tuesday that he sees the reconciliation of past discrepancies as a separate issue from the difference in city and county spending this year. If the county will balance the ledger now, the library will have more money going into the new building.

Williams did not say whether he would expect the city to reconcile its library budget shortfall next year.

If the county keeps its $300,000 library budget and the city stays at $277,742, the difference between city and county funding this decade will drop to $1,000 — essentially reconciling the previous difference. If Ayscue follows Williams’ suggestion, the county’s funding will exceed the city’s by $22,258 over five years. If Ayscue sticks with his original plan and lowers the county funding to the city’s level, the city will still be $23,258 ahead of the county in library spending since 2001.

“There are some things that can’t be handled administratively,” Williams said. He said he doesn’t know how Ayscue will respond to his letter, but he expects that the elected officials on both sides will have to make the decisions.

Ayscue said he likely will respond to Williams in writing. Fox said she had not read the letter by Tuesday afternoon, so she was not prepared to comment on it.