Thursday, April 5, 2007

Let Them Not Read

From the Lexington Herald-Leader:

In a reversal of his predecessor's priorities, the state librarian has restored funding to several big-ticket construction projects in higher populated counties, a move that means similar projects in smaller counties might be losing some funding. Commissioner Wayne Onkst's ruling is the latest step in a process that still offers a 30-day appeals window for libraries to contest the new distribution of funds. Onkst's rulings followed appeals that libraries, including the Lexington Public Library, launched against last year's decisions by former state librarian Jim Nelson.

Nelson acknowledged yesterday that the process became "controversial" because he did not follow priorities set by a state library construction committee that had suggested large amounts go to projects in Boyle, Fayette and Oldham counties. In the new rulings made late last week, Onkst has signed off on $2.1 million in funding for Boyle and Fayette counties and $2.4 million for Oldham. Each was to receive $500,000 under Nelson's plan. But Onkst also drastically cut funds to several smaller counties including Lawrence, Lincoln and Rowan.

The change came as a great disappointment to Lawrence County Public Library Director Mary McGuire, who received a mailed notice of an 80 percent cut yesterday morning. The library had planned to double in size, adding a computer lab, a space aimed at teens and a bigger genealogy section. "We were just heartbroken and disappointed that the appeal could even happen," McGuire said. "We're in a real small area with no industry, and we just don't have a lot of revenue."

Nelson said helping the counties with smaller tax bases was his aim last year in apportioning the funding, which is spread over 20 years. McGuire said yesterday there's little chance that Lawrence County will go ahead with its expansion unless it appeals and wins back money. "We don't know what to do," she said. "We're just at a loss."

Nelson said yesterday that politics also entered into his decisions. He said legislators from some of the smaller counties, whom he did not identify, were instrumental in placing the construction money in the state budget, "and that ought to count for something." "It's not strictly a political decision," he said. "It's just the reality is that nobody was giving us any money, and here we got some money ... and it was strictly my decision.

Onkst declined to describe how he made the decisions. He did say, though, that he did not deviate from recommendations made by an appeals panel. Kathleen Imhoff, executive director of the Lexington Public Library, said yesterday that the library would have to wait until the 30-day appeals window ends until knowing whether the restored funding would stay. It would use the money to build a new Northside branch. Construction bids are due today. Boyle County, which could see a funding increase of more than 400 percent, plans to bid its expansion project by early summer, said Director Karl Benson.

The expansion would more than triple the library's children's space, as well as incorporate a historic house nearby for community space. With Onkst's ruling, Benson said, "We can't count our chickens before they hatch, but it does seem to be looking good at this point."

Governor Fletcher’s Kentucky… Subtract funds from desperate rural counties. Increase funds for affluent populated counties.

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