A few years ago, back when I was a newspaper guy and someone seen as worth talking to about important stuff in the community, a group from the Alamance Friends of the Library asked for a sit-down at the Burlington Times-News office. I had no idea what they wanted to discuss but I was more than happy to see them.
Yeah, I like libraries — a lot.
What they proposed that day was a fund-raising effort geared toward bringing back a very old but nicely updated and needed idea — a mobile library. When I was a kid this was called the “bookmobile.” What it did then in a rural county like my native Stokes County was deliver books to folks, largely kids, who might not otherwise have easy access to the brick-and-mortar library, which might be several miles away. There weren’t many library sites in Stokes County at the time. I believe the only one was in the county seat of Danbury. My grandmother helped make that miracle happen.
I loved the idea the Friends of the Library presented and told them so. I said the newspaper would certainly support it — after all literacy is essential to the survival of news consumption either in print or online. It’s also necessary for the understanding and promotion of democracy. This bookmobile would offer a wide variety of services and programs to rural parts of Alamance County — including internet access via Wi-Fi. This kind of connectivity is critical in everything from learning, communication, information and entertainment to landing a job.
I was all in.
The proposal included a plan for fund-raising in the community. Monetary support would come from non-profits, individual donations and a final boost from the county Board of Commissioners in paying maintenance on the vehicles and payment for part-time drivers. In 2016, the commissioners agreed to this simple request for funding.
The library group did its part in terms of financial support. Donations came in from the public joined with contributions from Impact Alamance and the Farm Bureau. Everything seemed ready to move forward until . . . the proposed budget for 2018-19 was released with a flat tax rate of 58 cents per $100 worth of property. The county’s bookmobile funding wasn’t there. In fact, proposed library funding would also necessitate trimming the library budget. I won’t even get into the long-range strategic plan formed for the library in 2017. That intensive effort (full disclosure, I was on the committee that put it together) looks like a longshot of ever being realized based on current events.
I was pretty disappointed to see the county withdraw its previously stated support for the bookmobile project. I noted as much in a post last week in reference to leadership in our community and the idea that sometimes tough decisions have to be made. I mentioned the ongoing debate over education spending. A sometimes white-hot verbal jousting match between political leaders, the community and educators. I wrote about the need for Alamance County and our children to be competitive in an evolving world.
Monday night I was gratified and mildly surprised to see that leadership in our county stepped up, even if it was just a little bit. By voting 3-2 to raise property taxes by one cent, the county will be able to pay for the debt it owes the library for the bookmobile effort. Money will also go toward the Alamance-Burlington School System budget shortfall created by the original county budget and do the same for Alamance Community College.
In casting the deciding vote Amy Galey, chair of the Board of Commissioners, said she thought the tax increase would put out “the hottest fires.” Galey, who has been in the center of a tug-of-war between those who oppose any tax increase and those who support more financial backing for education, voted against a tax increase a year ago. Monday’s vote was a small step forward, but an important one. As County Manager Bryan Hagood said in a Times-News story by Jessica Williams, “I do believe we have reached the end of what 58 cents will do, particularly for county government.” It should be noted that we’ve probably reached the end of what 59 cents will do as well. Those “hottest fires” are still smoldering.
Galey was joined in voting for the one-cent increase by commissioners Bob Byrd and Eddie Boswell. Both indicated support earlier for a one-cent or more increase. Galey’s endorsement was the surprise of the night and I want to thank her for making a decision that she’ll likely be criticized for in some circles. In the “No Shock There Department” commissioners Tim Sutton and Bill Lashley voted against the increase.
The budget adjustment for the coming year doesn’t begin to address all the community’s needs, nor should it, especially with a school bond referendum ahead in November that will define how the school system can proceed in terms of, well, every single thing. The bonds absolutely must pass and I’m glad to see that four commissioners support the referendum. Lashley is the only holdout. His dislike for schools is well documented. But in terms of county funding, every little bit helps.
First and foremost, though, I’m glad to see the county keep its promise to the library. The distrust of leadership often begins elsewhere but it solidifies into a dark philosophy when promises are openly broken. I was heartened to read Galey say, “I think it’s very important that we honor that.”
I do too.