City and county discuss library

The Intergovernmental Committee meeting held Monday afternoon at the Henderson Police Department’s conference room got off to an anticlimactic start.

After preliminary remarks by the Henderson City Council’s Finance and Intergovernmental Relations (FAIR) Committee’s chair Lynn Harper, Henderson City Council member Bobby Gupton debuted with a suggestion that the opening of the new H. Leslie Perry Memorial Library be delayed until a meeting could be held with all interested parties including the Henderson City Council, the Vance County Board of Commissioners, the Embassy Square Foundation, and the library board. Issues that Gupton wishes to discuss include title and ownership of the new library, annual funding for operation costs including costs of maintenance of the library grounds and the investment the city already has in the library grounds, as well as any other pertinent matters.

Henderson City Council member Lonnie Davis asked if Gupton’s remarks were an opinion. Gupton replied that they were a recommendation to delay the opening until the matters have been resolved.

Henderson Mayor Pro Tempore Ranger Wilkerson commented that Gupton’s remarks reflected some of his own questions regarding the library project.

“There’s a great big ‘I don’t know’ built around this library,” Wilkerson remarked. “I know we’ve got 1.8 million invested in it.”

Tim Pegram, Chairman of the Vance County Board of Commissioners, said that he had assumed that funding of the library would be what the city and county had agreed upon over the years.

“I have always considered it a City of Henderson library,” Pegram said.

County Commissioner Tommy Hester, who arrived after Gupton’s initial statement, said, “I think it’s a great asset for our community,” referring to the library.

In one of several attempts to steer the debate, Harper advised the committee that Gupton was saying that members should slow down and see how the library is going to be deeded, funded, and maintained.

“I have always considered it a county library,” Gupton told the committee.

Terry Garrison, the County Commission’s third representative to the Intergovernmental Committee, reminded Gupton and others that the county had little or nothing to do with the building of the new library.

Gupton said that as a city resident that he had a problem with city residents paying one and one half times the taxes as city residents to use the same library facilities as county residents.

County Manager Jerry Ayscue gave a brief history of library revenue. According to Ayscue, 21 years ago, the city was the leading funder of the library. As time went on, the county agreed to fund the library on a fifty-fifty basis. There were times when there was not parity, but, for Ayscue, is was as close as can reasonably be expected.

“Was it right?” said Ayscue. “I think it’s right because it worked.”

Interim City Manager Jerry Moss added to the discussion that of the 75 public library systems in North Carolina, 51 are county funded, 9 and municipal, and 15 are regional. The type of funding arrangement enjoyed by the H. Leslie Perry Library is not the norm for North Carolina.

Harper once again attemped to persuade members to discuss the feasibility of a meeting. However, the point was once again sidetracked as Tem Blackburn of the Board of Trustees of H. Leslie Perry Memorial Library was called upon to give his perspective of the history of the library project.

According to Blackburn, the original plan was to expand on the existing library structure which is owned jointly by the city and the county and funded in like manner, except for money it receives from the state. The library was approached by city representatives to change the arrangement and move to a new structure on the same block as the new police department. However, it was determined that there would be inadequate parking, so it was decided to build the new library on the next block. Consequently, the city acquired properties on what came to be known as Embassy Block South. A mortgage was acquired for financing. The deal was that the city would acquire the property for the price of the original real estate investment.

Blackburn went on to inform the committee that the library board understood that the issue of ownership might come up again. He told the committee that he was, however, operating on the assumption that the fifty-fifty funding relationship would continue.

Wilkerson responded that his understanding was that the city was not obligated for the debts and he wondered who was going to pay.

Blackburn indicated that if the bank did not object that the building could be transferred without the debt.

Hester asked if “we” [the city and the county] were going to fund the library fifty-fifty. Harper responded that the city was not prepared to answer until the budget was done.

The discussion then went on to the current shortfall in the library’s operating budget. According to Blackburn, for the library to continue operating at its current hours in the new facility, it will require $32,000 until the end of the fiscal year on June 30. The library board sent two requests to the city council for $16,000, both of which were declined. Ayscue indicated that his recommendation would be for the county commission to decline a similar request to maintain parity with the city council.

The issue of the $23,000 difference in funding that had been identified by former City Manager Eric Williams was also discussed. It was decided that the City and County Managers should research the figure going back five fiscal years.

It was never resolved to have a meeting before the opening of the new library.