“Let’s work together”

Published 10:31 am Thursday, July 13, 2017

AHOSKIE – Rev. Daniel Smith spoke before the Ahoskie Town Council here Tuesday night during the public comments section of the scheduled meeting and made an ardent plea for the town to avoid delay and move forward with the proposed construction of a new Ahoskie Public Library.

While he was the spokesperson, Smith did not appear before Council alone.

The meeting attracted one of the largest crowds in years for a Council proceeding, Among the attendees were not just members of the Library Committee, but also some 30 other persons in attendance – from youths to seniors – who all raised their hands when queried if they were present that evening on behalf of the reference center.

“What’s happened is the Library Committee and other concerned citizens have worked hard for the last 10 years for a new facility,” Smith said. “During that period we’ve raised approximately $200,000; and they were going to hold onto that until it was really feasible to move forward.”

Citing the approval the Council gave in 2016 to move forward with the project, Smith stated that some $187,000 of donated money – not town funds – was spent on the initial phase of the project.

“And that was only spent because the Town gave its approval for that to go forward,” he noted.

While acknowledging budgetary constraints, Smith said he realized how much that might play into a decision to delay the start of the project.

“Now, because of those budgetary challenges, the town government has said that the project should be delayed for two or three years,” Smith intoned. “That decision has broken the hearts and taken the wind out of the citizens who’ve been working so hard for 10 years for a new library.”

Designs have been drawn up for a facility in Ahoskie that will be 10,469 square feet and located on the empty lot adjacent to Southern Bank near First Presbyterian Church with access from Main or Church Streets.

Smith said for the first time in 10 years there was no library fund-raiser slated for this year. Annually there has been an North Carolina Pork Council sanctioned BBQ Cook Off event held during the September Heritage Day in town along with other fund-raisers that benefit the library.

“People have lost hope, and while I feel its not the purpose of local government to take the hope away from people, but to represent them,” he said.

Smith called for three points to be made in defense of the library project moving forward: why should the project move forward; can it be done; and, what do citizens of Ahoskie want.

“Why….because our citizens want it done,” he stated. “Our library is one of the busiest in the region, but one of the smallest.”

The pastor provided photos of library patrons using the facility’s computer lab.

“For every person you see sitting at that table, there are 20 more who wish they had a space at that table,” he said. “That’s important because while we should be thankful for the books, we’re also living in an age of Google and keystrokes. With 35 percent of our population living in poverty, you’ve got a lot of people out there who don’t have in their homes what you and I have in ours. We need to help them keep up in this technological age.”

Among other needs of the existing Ahoskie Library, Smith cited cramped office space, inadequate parking, poor lighting and a lack of air conditioning at some of the other Albemarle Regional Library outlets.

“Finally, we should move forward with this project because it’s just the right thing to do,” Smith concluded. “To take the people’s money and say ‘Come back in two or three years’ is just wrong. We can do this right now if we work together to find a solution. If we start off saying we’re just not going to do it then it won’t be done.”

He ended his remarks saying this is what the citizens want and challenged Council to find a way to move forward.

“You must actively work with the Library Committee to find a way,” he stated. “There are all kinds of ways to get this done if we put our heads together and find a partnership. Thirdly, we want the library facing Church Street.”

Smith’s last remark referenced the project’s engineers’ recommendations; though the Main Street entrance was promoted because it would aid revitalization of downtown.

“We need to put our heads together – government, the Library Committee, and concerned citizens – and find an answer, and there won’t be a delay,” he said.

Following Smith’s remarks, Mayor Jimmie Rowe thanked the pastor and said he and newly hired Town Manager Kerry McDuffie would be meeting with the Library Committee tonight (Thursday) at the Ahoskie Public Library at 7 p.m.

“With your help, and a lot of other help, I think we can get this done,” Rowe said.