Laura Dean Bennett
The Pocahontas County Commission room was packed Tuesday morning with more than a dozen members of the community in the wings waiting to participate in or listen to the discussion about future funding for Pocahontas County Free Libraries.
After a few minutes of regular housekeeping business, Commission President Bill Beard opened the meeting to public input.
Those who had signed up to speak were there to talk about the threatened loss of Hotel/Motel funding for the county’s libraries.
It recently came to the attention of the commission that the Hotel/Motel tax distribution statute states that the money is to be used solely for recreational facilities and tourism.
First to speak was PCFL board member Paul Marganian.
Marganian told the commissioners that he supported the plan of action that Michelle Jeffers and Cree Lahti were going to submit to the commission later in the meeting.
Allen Johnson spoke next, detailing the many valuable educational programs that the libraries conduct in conjunction with the Pocahontas County schools.
Deborah Johnson reviewed library history and explained that the manner in which our libraries function has changed significantly since 1983 when the Hotel/Motel tax distribution statute was written.
“Since the Internet has become a part of our lives, it has impacted how our patrons use the library,” she said. “Besides coming in to access books and newspapers, we now have both patrons and visitors coming in on a regular basis to use the Internet for a variety of reasons.
“We believe that we are more than meeting the intent, if not the letter of the law.”
Johnson went on to remind the commission that the library system won a prestigious national library award. PCFL was one of only three library systems in the country to win in 2003, an honor that came with $10,000. She also noted that the libraries function on a “relatively small, but efficient budget.”
Alice Arbuckle spoke about the importance of the Hillsboro Library to visitors to the county as well as to members of the community, and noted the special programs that are presented there.
Tom Simpkins addressed the commissioners, saying that he is retired, travels frequently and agrees with Mrs. Johnson who said that many tourists stop in to use our libraries.
“Wherever I find myself in my travels, I always stop in at the library,” Simpkins said. “I use the Internet to pay bills and check my email, and I chat with local people about their community. I get good advice about where to eat and where to visit.”
Maryann Tomasik, a resident of Florida, who owns a summer home in Clover Lick and also spoke.
“I always notice the number of out of state cars in the parking lot of the library when I am there,” Tomasik said.
“I have often overheard out-of-towners asking the librarians about where to find the parks, what hours the observatory is open and where to go to find various activities or organizations.”
Mary Moore McLaughlin brought to the commissioners’ attention the fact that, some time ago, the Linwood Library had, with the help of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, incorporated a tourist center.
“We found the tourist center to be well-received and a welcome addition for our visitors,” McLaughlin said. “And I understand there are plans to expand this concept into our other libraries.”
Moving forward, the commissioners asked prosecuting attorney Eugene Simmons if he had received a reply from the State Attorney’s office regarding his opinion of the reading of the statute.
Simmons said that the office had referred the matter to a consulting attorney, but had not given him an answer as of yet, although he expected to hear from them sometime this week.
Commissioners then recognized PCFL board member Michelle Jeffers.
Jeffers presented the commissioners with a proposal that she and the library board hoped would be an agreeable solution to meet state statute pertaining to the distribution of Hotel/Motel tax.
“As we studied the categories approved to receive funding, we realized that if we simply formalize what we already do in our libraries, there should be no question that we qualify for Hotel/Motel tax funds,” Jeffers said.
“The PCFL Board of Trustees plans to: officially change the name of our libraries to Pocahontas County Library and Tourist Information Center. We will also replace our signage to notify passing visitors that free Wifi is available in our buildings.”
The presentation went into further detail about other changes that the libraries would be making to enhance and publicize their usefulness to visitors, and she said that librarians would be trained in visitor services.
“We are not changing our original mission, which has always been to serve Pocahontas County residents and our visitors. We are simply formalizing what we already do,” PCFL director Cree Lahti added.
Commissioners seemed satisfied that the proposal would be a good solution to the problem.
Commissioner Jesse Groseclose stated that the library could work with the Convention and Visitors Bureau to offer formal tourism training to library staff.
Beard added that he would like the commission to see a cooperative agreement between the CVB and the library system.
“I feel like this proposal is a good agreement and it will do what we need to bring us into compliance with the statute,” Simmons said. “I can approve continuing the funding to the library system between now and when this new plan goes into effect.”
Library board representatives will have a written cooperative plan for the commissioners’ approval at September 19 meeting.
Day Report update
Jimmy Vandevender presented the August numbers from Day Report.
Vandevender reported that there were 16 participants at the beginning of the month, with two new participants added – nine male and eight female. Zero participants completed the program and one was returned to jail.
Sixty-three drug screens were performed on day report participants, 16 on DHHR participants for a total of 79 drug screens in August. Of those, three came back positive.
Vandevender also reported on community service hours and activities as well as classroom time.
In other business:
• The commission approved the appointment of Daniel E. Arbogast, II as Director of the Pocahontas County Day Report Program. Arbogast has worked as case manager at Huttonsville Correction Center, as well as with challenged students in the school system.
• CVB director Cara Rose presented her annual budget, noting that tourism income to the county in the past year was the third highest since 2006-2007
• Leslie Cain was appointed to the Dramas, Fairs and Festivals Board for a three-year term, ending June 30, 2020.
The commission meets again in regular session Tuesday, September 19 at 5:30 p.m.