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Library debate continues

GATESVILLE – While many say they support the construction of a new library in Gates County, the public debate over the issue remains.

At their Sept. 20 meeting, the Gates County Board of Commissioners opened to the floor to public comments regarding the proposed new library.

To date, the commissioners have not committed any county funds to the project. They have approved an architect to move forward in the process, one that includes a feasibility study, additional input from the public through community forums and the possibility of appointing a library study committee.

All of this comes at a time where the existing Gates County Public Library is housed inside an aging facility, one not conducive to the repairs needed to expand the library.

Leading off last week’s public input was John Hora, commissioner-elect from Eure. He was actually placed on the meeting agenda, thus giving him more time to address this much-debated issue.

“I am not here against the library; I’m not here for the library; we need a library, but I do have some questions,” Hora said. “What is a feasibility study? I don’t know of a better way to do that than let the citizens exercise their right to vote. Is there money budgeted for the feasibility study?”

“Write your questions down and we’ll get you the answers to you…I don’t have the answer right now. We’re working on this,” Commission Chairman Graham Twine said.

“Will there be a library study committee formed,” Hora inquired.

“Yes,” Twine answered, adding that the procedures have yet to be determined regarding the formation of this committee.

“We had to have a starting point on this (library) and that started with selecting an architect,” Twine noted.

Twine then asked Hora how many libraries had he built.

“None,” Hora answered, “but I have done a lot of capital projects.”

“Well neither have we and that’s my point, we had to start with this somewhere,” Twine noted.

Hora readdressed the issue of holding a referendum to let the county citizens decide on whether or not a library should be built. He cited the response from Bob Joyce of the Institute of Government, saying it was Joyce’s opinion that a pro or con vote on the library could not be legally put to a referendum. Hora said perhaps the question from County Manager Toby Chappell to Joyce was not asked correctly.

“There are numerous referendums in the state statutes,” Hora said. “I sent an e-mail to Professor Joyce a week and a half ago about this referendum and I have yet to hear a reply. If you ask the right questions, you might get the right answers.”

“How will the county pay for this; do you expect the county citizens to step up to the plate and pay for it through taxes,” Hora asked.

Hora said he agreed with Commissioner Henry Jordan’s assessment of a holding a referendum, connecting it with a half-cent property tax increase to pay for building a library.

“That would be legal on a referendum,” Hora stated. “That will also give the citizens a way to say how the money will be spent.”

Hora cited a referendum to be held in November in Forsyth County on whether or not to spend $40 million to renovate or replace that county’s main library.

“Who advised them (of the legality) of a referendum for a library,” Hora asked.

In closing, Hora said, “You might block the referendum on this, but there’s one you can’t block and that’s the election (of government officers). There’s a national revolution going on because elected officials refuse to listen to their constituents. The voters will have their say.”

Several other Gates County citizens also used last week’s meeting to voice their comments on the proposed library.

“Libraries are just as important as our schools, it’s part of the education system,” James Miller said. “Lots of families do not have access to books or computers, they find it at the library.”

“Citizens of Gates County deserve to have a library that is structurally sound and in no imminent danger of being condemned,” said Rene Kittrell, adding that the existing library has issues with floor space, shelf space and separate areas for children’s programs and public access computers.

“Our students rely too much on the internet for research, they need varied sources of research and that would be at a library,” Kittrell added. I’d rather see my tax dollars used to build a new, efficient, ‘green’ library. Continuing to spend tax dollars to maintain a structurally unsafe building is not a wise use of taxpayer money.”

“As parents, we introduce our children to the library as a source of information and enrichment for their lives,” noted Cecilia Anderson. “A library has a feeling for information and information is power. Our library is always filled when I go there. Our library allows us to be life-long learners.”

Milton Carter questioned the filters now used on the libraries computers connected to the Internet.

“The information technology at the new library, if there is to be one, needs to be upgraded,” Carter suggested.

As a media specialist at one of Gates County’s public schools, Janice Askew said the school system has formed a partnership with the Gates County Public Library, a place where students are encouraged to visit to use the expanded sources of information located there, to gain access to additional material.

In saying she supported a new facility, Askew urged to have it built at a central location, making it beneficial to all citizens and making the facility easy to access for all.

“The space at the existing library for conducting research is not conducive to learning,” Askew said, adding that those performing research had to sit on the floor to take notes, often having to move out of the way to allow for foot traffic.

“Book shelf space is limited and the lighting is not good,” she added. “There is also the need for a space separate for young children.”

Tonya Sinclair said she started visiting the Gates County Public Library at age five; enlisted as a library volunteer as a teenager and is now employed there.

“We’re working hard in the exiting library. If something happens there, we cannot replace what is lost,” Sinclair said.

Penny Heishman said she felt a new library was needed, but not right now.

“Not in this recession,” she stressed. “Our taxes have already been raised in this recession. We want something we cannot afford to pay for. We need to pay for other needs at other county buildings, this courtroom for example…no air conditioning, the mold, the water leaks, the bathrooms.”

Pat Familar, who serves as the Gates County Librarian, supports a new facility.

“People are questioning the cost of a new building, what about the costs associated with the upkeep of the old building we’re in now,” she noted. “Plus we’ve outgrown the space we have.”

Jack Owens said he has conducted a polling of Gates County citizens on the library issue, saying that 80 percent are in favor.

“I’ve also heard comments about this not being a good time to build one,” Owens said. “If we had a new library, a strong majority of you would take a lot of pride in that.”

Owens added, “I want us to learn something that’s going on tonight; we need to not to be enemies, we need to find compromise, listen to each other closely and intently. We need to be proud together.”

Alana Wright said the power of the written word has an impact on everyone.

“I love to read, and the library gives me that opportunity,” Wright said. “Imagine what it would be like not to have a library, we would be not be very well educated.”

“There’s lots of information on the internet, some good, some bad, some misleading and inaccurate,” said Matt Wright. “Libraries are somewhere we can go to sort through the information. It goes along with education.”

Robert Winslow said he has visited the library numerous times in 30 years.

“Children rely too much on the internet; we’re raising lazy readers, they don’t know how to go to a library for research,” Winslow noted. “Reading a book on the internet does not inspire imagination. One of my greatest pleasures is finishing a book, closing it and reflecting on what I’ve read. As far as paying for it, I would pay extra taxes to build one.”

Earl Rountree confirmed with the commissioners that there is no grant funding involved with this proposed project.

“We’re talking about a loan,” Rountree said. “You want to build something now and pay for it later. We’re not getting a deal through USDA. We’re not getting this at a discount. Let’s pay for this now.”

J.E. Harrell claimed it was the determination of the county manager and certain county commissioners to not let the citizens speak (vote).

“Some are on a hail mary course to build a library,” Harrell said. “Who would suggest to their children to build a new home, with no money down. I would expect the commissioners want and need our feedback. Will tax money be used to fix the old courthouse, build a new library, market the old Sunbury School; there’s only so much to go around. I will go on the record against a tax increase. We need to think outside the box of how we’ll pay for a new library.”

Thomas Langston stressed that this is not a good time to get in debt for a new library.

“I’m not against a new library,” Langston stated. “We need to concentrate on fixing things in the county that need to be fixed now, including this courtroom.”

Vernon Pope closed out the public comments by saying, “I’m all for a library, we need one, but this nation is thirteen trillion dollars in debt; we’re borrowing money from China. We can’t pay our debt, so stop digging. We do not need new long term debt. We need to take care of our (existing) infrastructure.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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