Hora crunches numbers

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, September 28, 2011

GATESVIILE – John Hora’s presentation here last week centered on an acronym of one word – SALE.

Hora, in his first term as a Gates County Commissioner, has been a leading critic of the way county government is going about the process of building a new public library. He was provided information from the Albemarle Regional Library System to generate a series of charts and graphs he used to crunch numbers on the proposed $1.5 million project.

At the Sept. 19 commissioners’ meeting, Hora finally got a chance to reveal his numbers, but first stated that the entire project was based on his acronym for SALE.

“S is for size; A is for amount; L is for location; and E is for the execution of the process,” Hora said.

Using a series of charts shown on a screen to display his findings from the database, Hora said those numbers tracked transactions made at the library – checking out books, DVDs, etc. The database does not track those using the library and who do not check out any type of materials.

“We need a library, we’re all in agreement on that. What I want is to do the right thing, do it the right way for our citizens, our taxpayers and those who use the library,” Hora said.

His research showed 12,197 Gates County residents, breaking it down by town (addresses) and percentage of those residents who have a library card. Those are: Gates (34.75%); Gatesville (19.85%); Eure (14.66%), Sunbury (12.42%); Corapeake (9.02%); Hobbsville (8.31%) and Roduco (0.93%)….a total of 4,599 county residents that hold a library card.

Of the 4,599 card holders, a shade over 71 percent are adults while nearly 28 percent are listed as juveniles. Hora questioned exactly who they were – retirees, students, “eight-to-five guys.” He added that 703 card holders have not checked out any materials from the library since 2000.

Hora said he was puzzled over one particular part of the database. Those numbers included transactions made by library patrons by month and by year. He noted those transactions were fairly consistent throughout until July of 2010.

“I started talking about these numbers last June,” Hora said, pointing too more than a 100 percent increase (60 transactions in June 2010 to 130 transactions in June of this year). The chart also noted dramatic increases in the ensuing months – July (164 transactions compared to 72 during July of 2010) and August (285 vs. 62).

“Do you have any idea of what that makes me think,” Hora asked. “Someone changed the focus. Why, because John Hora started asking questions.”

Hora’s research also showed the times of day most popular for checking out library materials. He said 23 percent checked out books and other materials during the morning hours; 77 percent in the afternoon (the heaviest activity between 3-5 p.m.).

Breaking down the numbers even further, Hora said only 10.12 percent of Gates County’s voting population checked out materials from the library between Aug. 1, 2009, and Aug. 1, 2011.

He added that it cost, on average, $3.12 per transaction over that same two-year period (based on the $90,000 Gates County pays annually to the Albemarle Regional Library System).

“If you only have 10 percent of your citizens using the library, what about the other 90 percent? How do they feel about spending their money to build a new library? Perhaps not too good,” Hora noted. “Maybe that 90 percent needs to become engaged in what a library has to offer, but that’s their decision. They’re a voter, perhaps they need to decide on what they want, not just here (Hora pointed to the 10 percent slice of the pie chart, saying they were missing the point of the democratic process).”

He continued, “When I first became involved in this library issue, 17,000 was the number thrown at me of those using the library,” Hora said. “This statistical data is showing me that number is 845 of those using the library as defined by the dictionary of what a library is. What are we using it for? We have schools full of computers. Dr. Smallwood said we (the public) can have access to them. We need to use the resources we have.”

Stating – “this is what really gives me a lot of pain” – Hora then showed a chart denoting the size of public libraries in the neighboring Roanoke-Chowan area counties, as well as the population of those counties (based on the 2010 U.S. Census). They were:

Bertie – 4,132 square foot library (21,282 population)

Hertford – 5,000 square foot library (24,689 population)

Northampton – 6,000 square foot library (22,099 population).

Hora said based on the proposed current scope of the Gates County Public Library construction project, it called for an 8,100 square foot facility within the area’s smallest county (12,197 population).

“That really burns me,” Hora said. “I want nice things, but I’m not trying to keep up with the Joneses.”

Hora also touched on the site of the current library – the old Gates County Courthouse, which he said is in need of repair.

“What are we going to do with it? How much is it going to cost the taxpayers (to renovate the old courthouse)? The taxpayers need to be engaged on the decision we make. It’s their money,” he said.

Based on conversations he said he had with county citizens, Hora revealed possible alternatives to building a new library. He suggested the county could opt to purchase or lease properties currently not being used, to include the old Family Foods building in Gatesville. Hora said the money earmarked for the building of a new library could be put to use to renovate the old courthouse. Upon completion of that project, the library could be moved back to the courthouse.

He also suggested moving the library to the old Gates County Correctional Institution, perhaps gaining ownership free of charge from the state and using $500,000 to renovate the facility.

Another suggestion was to duplicate the size of the current Doris & Rogers Restaurant, located on US 13 in Gates and built by local contractors. Hora said an 8,000 square foot facility could be constructed for $800,000 ($100 per square foot), plus another $100,000 for parking, landscaping and sewer. He noted the architect (LS3P) working on the current library construction project listed the per square foot price of that facility at $197.

He also pointed to an addition to New Hope Missionary Baptist Church….roughly 5,800 square feet and bricked. That project was completed at $85 to $95 per square foot, he said.

Hora stressed the importance of keeping the public library within Gatesville, saying town leaders stressed (in an April 14 letter to the county) that they wanted to keep it there. He added a Gatesville landowner was willing to swap property titles with Kim Old, the developer of Merchants Commerce Center who has donated a parcel of land to the county on which to build the new library.

Hora said the future of “stick built” libraries is bleak with the advance of technology.

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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