Library database forthcoming

Published 10:49 am Wednesday, August 10, 2011

GATESVILLE – A unique request by a Gates County Commissioner bears further study.

At their meeting here last week, the Gates County Board of Commissioners tentatively approved a request made by Commissioner Johnny Hora regarding his desire to forego payment of his salary in exchange for the county picking up the $1,500 tab on a database that tracks the use of public libraries.

Hora, in his first term on the board, has been very vocal about the county pushing forward with building a new library. In a later interview, Hora said he was not necessarily anti-library.

“It’s not I’m against building a library, but we need to ensure we’re spending our taxpayer’s money wisely,” he said. “If this database shows a decline in the trends of library usage, what do we do? We need a library, our children need it, but the size needs to match what the data reveals. We’re not getting grant money to build this….this is taxpayer money we’re talking about and the library is a non-revenue bearing part of our local government.”

While citing a need for the county to make some type of move with the library, Hora said he wasn’t opposed to completely dropping the project if the database numbers reveal there are not enough citizens using the local library to justify the cost of new construction.

“In a recession we need to be watching our bottom line,” he stated. “I don’t think it’s too late to turn back; drop this project if the numbers just aren’t there. It’s not about me; the Gates County citizens need to know the facts to which we need to base this decision on. The public can interpret the numbers as they see fit. The majority of the board didn’t allow for the citizens to vote on whether or not to build a new library; perhaps this database will decide that.”

To date, Hora said Gates County local government has expended $73,000 on architectural services for the new library. The county does have a parcel of property to build, one located at the new Merchants Commerce Center across from Gates County High School.

From the database, Hora said he hopes to learn from what parts of the county are citizens coming from to use the current library (located in Gatesville), what materials are being checked out, the ages of those using the library and the times of the transactions made at the library.

That database will be obtained from Polaris Library Systems, a Texas-based firm that tracks library transactions through the use of a barcode. Hora said those numbers will also include transactions made at neighboring libraries in Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties.

“I want to be completely satisfied that these numbers will show that we’re making a good economical decision before we go spending over $1.7 million on a new library,” Hora stressed.

But to get his hands on those numbers, Hora had to come up with a way to pay the $1,500 asking price by Polaris Systems.

At last week’s Commissioners meeting, Hora introduced a motion to appropriate $1,500 from the county’s fund balance – “or wherever we can find it,” he stated – to procure the library database from Polaris Systems.

That motion died for lack of a second.

“Okay, I’ve got another motion,” Hora said. “I’m asking for the next two months that the salary I make as a commissioner be withheld and I will procure the database from my (personal) funds and the county will deduct that from my salary. I will not be paid nor taxed from that money. I will forego restitution of my salary to procure this database to present it to the citizens of Gates County.”

Hora later said his Commissioner salary was roughly $750 per month, thus he would have to forego two months of salary to offset the county’s $1,500 investment into purchasing the database.

“Have you done research on the legality of what you’re asking,” inquired Commission Chairman Graham Twine.

“Yes I have,” Hora responded.

Twine asked for the opinion of county attorney Pitt Godwin.

“It’s a new one on me,” Godwin remarked. “I think anyone can defray compensation.”

“I don’t think I should have to pay for this for the citizens of Gates County, but I’m willing to do so,” Hora stressed. “All of the facts are not on the table and I want all the facts before I can support a logical decision.”

“This is an unusual circumstance,” Commissioner Jack Owens stated. “I would advise for our county manager to pick up the phone and call the School of Government and tell them of this scenario and have them advise us of what we need to do.”

“All I’m asking is that when I sign a waiver of my compensation (as a commissioner) that the county picks up the $1,500 bill,” Hora said. “It’s a wash between me and the county.”

“Our lawyer is not sure of this so maybe we do need to contact the School of Government,” Twine suggested.

Commissioner Henry Jordan offered a second to Hora’s second motion, pending the investigation of the legality of county funds being expended in lieu of salary. That motion was approved without objection.

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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