The Henry County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved $39,472 in funding from its contingency fund for the Blue Ridge Regional Library System at its Tuesday meeting, heeding a plea from Rick Ward, director.
The supervisors had expressed an interest in providing additional funds after the public hearing on the Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget. County staff suggested waiting until the new fiscal year began before such funding.
Before Ward’s presentation, County Administrator Dale Wagoner reminded the board that the library requested $774,968. The county’s budget proposed level funding of $735,541, a difference of $39,472.
“As you know,” Wagoner said, “Martinsville City and Patrick County also share in the cost of operating the library system. Should you recommend additional funding for the library, the staff recommends the increase come from the board’s contingency fund.
“It is my understanding that the city (of Martinsville) funded 50 percent of their share of the increase, and said they’d increase 100 percent if Henry County and Patrick County would contribute 100 percent. Unfortunately, I don’t think Patrick County has funded its share of the increase,” Wagoner said.
“We had asked them, since there’s one library in Patrick and one in Martinsville and three in Henry County, for $13,142 to give a 5 percent raise to the staff,” Ward said.
“Imagine my surprise when I asked (Patrick County) for $13,142 and got word that they were going to cut us 11 percent, which is almost $31,000,” he said, adding that cut would have been devastating. To help prevent it, Ward said he “rallied the troops, got our patrons to back us up, calling and emailing them to give us the $31,000 back – so we felt like that was a success there.
“What I’m asking for today, if you’re generous enough to give us this increase, if you give us the full increase, I’ll go to Martinsville and I’ll talk to them and see if they will get us the rest of the increase – then I’ll go to Patrick and say, ‘look at what Henry County and Martinsville are doing for the library.’”
Ward noted that all three localities had given their own staff raises this year, as well as most staff last year, but the library had not been able to do this for their employees for a long time. Noting the costs of gas, groceries, and overall inflation is tough, he said “we’re just asking to give our staff a 5 percent raise and I’m hoping we can start here.”
Debra Buchanan, of the Horsepasture District, asked whether the library was eligible for any ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds.
Ward explained those funds could not be used for salaries, or construction, which “tied our hands.” He detailed how he had wanted to retrofit the bathrooms for touch free, due to Covid, noting that the ARPA funds were spent on things like plexiglass shields, PPE (personal protective equipment) and Chromebooks for patrons to checkout.
“You’re not asking for this on an ongoing basis – you’re asking this as a supplement for this year,” Buchanan asked.
Ward responded that if it is used for salaries, he would hope to sustain it going forward. “I’d hate to give someone a raise and then take it away from them.”
Tommy Slaughter, of the Reed Creek District, asked about proposals if “Patrick County doesn’t come around.”
Ward said the results of a $31,000 cut would be possible closures or the bookmobile not going out into the community as much as it currently does.
He also said the number of users is increasing now that the pandemic is over, and added the week marked the final days of the summer reading and summer feeding program. Children aged 18 and younger are provided a meal at the library four days a week.
Slaughter raised concern about Henry County’s funds would be used to pay for raises to Patrick County staff.
Ward responded those funds would remain in Henry County. He also detailed measures he’d undertaken to save the library money, such as centralizing cataloging, collection development, and acquisitions.
Slaughter asked for confirmation that Henry County staff would receive raises, but not Patrick and Ward responded, “I can handle trying to come up with $13,000” (better) “than I can $67,000, which is what all of it together would be.”
He added he likely would cut the book budget or fuel costs, and noted that prices have increased for the library just as they have elsewhere.
In other matters, the board:
*Awarded a $276,056 contract to Vest’s Sales & Service, Inc. in Check, VA to buy a Dodge Ram 4-wheel drive ambulance to replace an ambulance that has been in service for 11 years.
*Awarded a contract to Excel Truck’s Group of Roanoke, VA for a 2024 Mack LR front loader garbage truck to replace an old truck that has been experiencing repeated equipment failures. Funds are designated for this item from the Capital Replacement Fund.
*Awarded a contract of $123,958 to Trane Technologies for a control system for the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. The control system will improve efficiency and provide the ability to monitor and control the HVAC systems for the Administration Building and other county buildings. The funds will be taken from the Capital Improvement Program.