Citizens weigh in on library issue

Published 10:43 am Friday, September 30, 2011

GATESVILLE – It’s apparent that a majority of Gates County citizens favor construction of a new public library or relocating the current one to an existing empty building.

The biggest question swirling among the public is the best course of action to take, at least the one that can offer ample space at the library at a reasonable price.

While the Gates County Board of Commissioners ponder their next move on where to go from this point forward, their constituents filled the ears of their elected leaders with a plethora of advice at the board’s Sept. 19 meeting.

Mickey Lee told of his past experience with visiting a library. He said he had trouble reading as a child; a teacher took him to the library two to three times per week, one hour during each visit.

“It made a big difference in my life. I learned how to read, that’s the first thing you have to learn to do. Today I’m very appreciative of what a library can do,” Lee said.

Gates County native Lawrence Minks, currently serving in Iraq as a Navy Petty Officer, sent a letter to the commissioners, one read by Tiffany Clements. Minks said he was upset with federal, state and local government, saying they were spending money foolishly on things while cutting funding for education.

“Instead of spending $1.5 million on a new building for a library, find an empty building (in good shape), like the old Family Foods in Gatesville, and place the library there,” Minks wrote. “Let’s use our heads and do the right thing for our county. If you are going to install wastewater lines for one developer and a couple of new businesses, charge them for that….don’t raise the taxes or water bills of Gates County citizens. Let’s take pride in our county, fix up the old buildings and schools first. Let’s come up with a way to keep the school libraries open for the public after school hours.”

Robert Winslow of Sunbury thanked the commissioners for moving forward to build a new library.

“I don’t think we need to debate whether or not we need a new library, except for those who don’t use the one we have,” he stated. “It’s been said the cost can be lowered through the competitive bidding process or by reducing the size, I hope we don’t make it so small that it’s not sufficient to meet our needs. I read the Index article about the library numbers. Well anyone can take numbers and make them say what you want them to say. Seems to me the best way to check the use of the library is to use the library.”

Earl Rountree of Sunbury said it would be premature to put a great deal of emphasis on what a new library will cost until that dollar amount is determined.

“When you start cutting costs, you start cutting quality,” Rountree said. “Nothing we’ve seen in costs right now is set in concrete. We need to look at what we need. I don’t see the need for us to keep fighting over this. Let’s compromise and do what is right. All five of you (commissioners) are on the record saying we need a new library. Let’s move on, but how big of a library do we need? I think we can build one for 1-2 ($1.2 million).”

J.E. Harrell stressed he wanted to see a plan of how the commissioners will pay for a new library.

“I would like to see a plan to pay for it, tax rates in detail,” Harrell said. “Will it take more employees to operate the new library…that’s an added cost. I find it particularly interesting that a panel of  five commissioners and one county manager can dictate the actions of over 12,000 people. I request that you be ever mindful to seek opportunities and ways to not only keep citizens in the loop, but for us to take part in the decision making process, before those decisions are made, not afterwards.”

Dan Bazemore, a regular attendee of commissioner meetings, recalled the first time he heard of the proposal to build a new library.

“They said at that time they had found some money to build a library,” Bazemore recalled. “Found money to me means you have it in your possession. Then they turned around and said they found some money they could borrow.

“I want to ask a few questions,” Bazemore continued. “Why was this information not furnished to the people a year ago? Why has it progressed to this level? Something has happened as to why the people were not informed.”

Commissioner John Hora answered, “You know the first question I asked was how much was this going to cost. Dan, you and I spoke about that and discussed the possibility of putting this on a referendum. This should have been bought before the people. We didn’t do that and that aggravates me. It’s easy to spend someone else’s money. I showed you tonight how we can have nice things and afford them.”

“I’d like some feedback from the rest of the commissioners; you’re holding back on us,” Bazemore stressed. “How is this going to affect our pocketbooks? I think you should give the majority of the people the chance to voice their opinion, listen to them. Don’t force this on us. It’s not too late to make adjustments. If the people want an 8,000 square foot library, give it to them. If they want to you to spend $1.7 million to build it, then spend that money. Let them give you feedback on what they want; it’s their money, they’re paying for it.”

Sandra Nickens encouraged the commissioners to work better together.

“It would be nice for all of you to work for the citizens, since they write your check,” she said.

Megan Mahler of Gates said she is a card-holding member of the library, although she hasn’t been there in quite some time.

“It’s hard to get out when you have little ones,” she said. “I now have an I-Pad and get e-books, which is more environmentally friendly. To me a library is a dated resource. The need is not there for me anymore, but I agree we need a new building, but not at $1.5 million. It’s like Mr. Hora said, there are several companies out there that can do the work for a fraction of the cost. Why wasn’t the design-build company looked at first. You may not have problems with money, but my family does, a lot of people in the community do.”

Dan Etheridge said he wanted to see the old Gates County Courthouse saved so it could house the library for generations to come.

“There’s wonderful history in that old courthouse, history that needs to be preserved,” he said. “I’d like to see you keep the old courthouse and the library together.”

Carolyn Riddick of Eure said she felt the community was being torn apart over the library issue.

“We need to respect one another and pull together,” she said. “We need a new library, but we first need to determine the square footage.”

Riddick also stressed a need for the county to attract businesses that will offer employment opportunities, thus keeping citizens at home instead of having to drive outside the county to find work.

“If we don’t, our young people will be gone in the future and we’ll have no one around to go to the library, no matter how much we’ve spent for it,” she said. “We have no future here in this county if we can’t keep our youth at home, but right now there’s nothing to keep them here.”

Jim Miller of Gatesville asked the commissioners to consider stopping the library project at this point and ask the citizens how they felt about this issue and the best way to spend the taxpayer’s money.

After the public had its say, the commissioners offered their personal comments on the library issue.

“I feel compassion for those who want a library, but I’m a taxpayer as well and I feel we have not done our homework,” said Hora. “Here’s $100,000 (holding up the latest request for funds from LS3P for the next stage of the library process). I’d rather have that in square footage. I presented something that can get us there. We don’t have to spend this $100,000. It’s ridiculous. We’ve already committed $70,000 and they want another $100,000. I don’t need someone in Raleigh telling me what I need. We have talented people right here in Gates County.

“This is about poor leadership,” Hora continued, again pointing to the LS3P request, “and there are some other things on the table like this. I am protecting the citizens, the taxpaying citizens of Gates County. I will not spend your money unwisely. I will not move forward on this unless I’m satisfied that the citizens are getting what they want. I’ve showed you a path where we can all win, an economical path. Let’s win, let’s win together.”

“We have the best builders in Gates County of anyone around,” said Commissioner Jack Owens. “I will support local contractors to build county buildings, including the library, if they have good rates. My vision for Gates County is not tomorrow, it’s way down the road. I want to raise the bar for Gates County, be noticed for what we produce.

“You don’t see the number of folks that are coming to us and saying they’re glad we’re moving forward with the library,” Owens continued. “Everyone up here (commissioners) have said we need a new library. A large number of citizens who spoke tonight say we need a new library. The issue is how we go about it. We are listening to you and I feel Gates County citizens deserve the best.”

“We’ve heard a lot of heartfelt discussions and I don’t take them lightly,” Commissioner Henry Jordan said. “When you spend money you want the best for your dollar. The next move we need to take as the board is to send out a robo call to the county. We want to survey you to see if you want to build a $1.5 million library. If you agree, then we move forward. If you say no, then I think we need to look at a more economical plan. We need to consider your input before we move forward.”

“I said at the last meeting to cap the library (construction costs) at $1.5 million, that doesn’t mean we have to spend that amount, just not exceed that amount,” said Commission Vice Chairman Kenneth Jernigan. “Hopefully the contractors that bid on this will come under that amount, including the one that did the work at New Hope if he decides to bid on the library.”

“If we build one, we build one we need,” said Commission Chairman Graham Twine. “As far as comments heard tonight about needing new business and creating jobs for our citizens, we’re working on that. We had to have a starting point for that, so we have the project out near the high school. It began with providing sewer. I want people here to have jobs.”

The board is expected to continue discussions over the new library at their next scheduled meeting (10 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 5).

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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