LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Public Library has the lowest per-capita funding for a public system in North Carolina, according to Horace Stacy, vice chairman of the library’s board of trustees, and that funding needs to be increased significantly to meet the needs of the county’s growing population.
Stacy spoke to the county Board of Commissioners during its meeting last Monday, telling the commissioners that the county’s funding of $387,000 for seven library branches amounted to just $2.88 for each of the county’s 134,502 residents, making the local system last in per-capita funding among 52 public library systems in the state.
He provided information showing per-capita funding in libary systems in some selected counties: Columbus, $19.89 per person; Scotland, $8.02 per person; Bladen, $11.22 per person; Cumberland, $30.47 per person; and Brunswick, $9.95 per person.
“It’s ridiculous,” Stacy said. “… We need more funding or we can’t expand our staff (of 22 employees), provide more hours or increase our resources.”
Kellie Blue, the county’s finance director, said the county has provided the main library in Lumberton $300,000 during the current fiscal year and the six branch libraries in Fairmont, Maxton, Pembroke, Red Springs, Rowland and St. Pauls a total of $89,500. That is up from the 2011-12 fiscal year’s allocation of $264,000 for the main library and $86,500 for the branch libraries.
Stacy said Robeson County’s current budget for its seven libraries is less than the $395,000 that Bladen County has budgeted for its three library branches. Bladen, with 35,000 residents, has about a fourth the population of Robeson County.
Stacy also told the commissioners that the hours the county’s libraries are opened need to be increased.
“Just to take two examples: Pembroke — which recently doubled the size of its library — still is only open 31 hours a week, and Red Springs is open 14 hours a week,” he said. “Gentlemen, we can and must do better than that.”
Stacy called the library system “a vital part of Robeson County’s education process.” In the past year, he said, the system served 7,000 children through about 270 programs.
According to Stacy, there are more than 35,000 library card holders in the county, including 9,000 children. There are 167,000 books, audios and videos in the system’s collections.
Stacy also pointed to the system’s 60 computers that are available for free use by county residents as a plus for the county’s libraries.
“We offer help to learn how to use computers, apply for jobs and search for all sorts of information,” he said.
Stacy added that the total door count last year for all the system’s branches was 294,085, an average of 900 users every day that the libraries are open to the public.
Robeson County, which has more people living in poverty than any other county in North Carolina, also is among the counties in the state with the highest rates of basic adult illiteracy. Although The Robesonian could not find recent illiteracy rates for North Carolina, figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that in 2003, Robeson County had an adult illiteracy rate of 19.9 percent, the 15th-highest rate in the state.
“Education is the real key to getting out of poverty,” Stacy said. “The library plays a great part in that process.”
He said that when individual library trustees met earlier this year with county commissioners, they expressed the system’s needs and asked that the commissioners begin to gradually increase the library’s budget so it is “competitive” with Bladen, Scotland and Columbus counties. The request was for enough additional money to increase the amount of funding per person from $2.50 to $3.50.
“You budgeted $2.88, less than a sixth of what Columbus County does per capita for less than one-half of our county population,” Stacy told the commissioners during last Monday’s meeting.
He said he is hopeful the commissioners will soon make some adjustments in the library system’s budget.
“I don’t know why the commissioners have budgeted the library so low,” he said. “In the past, perhaps it’s been because (the trustees) have not provided them with enough information.”
County Manager Ricky Harris said the commissioners are responsible for making budgeting decisions.
“We increased the library’s budget this year and have committed to continue increasing it,” Harris said.
Noah Woods, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, told The Robesonian that he can’t say when, or if, the library system will receive any additional funding.
“We have to look at our finances,” he said. “We have priorities and have to take things one step at a time. We don’t want to mess up our finances.
“But we know that the need is there. I know that we will respond as soon as funds are available.”
During the meeting Monday, Commissioner Tom Taylor wrote Stacy a check for $5,000 from his discretionary fund.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.