Pound foolish

If only Traci Davenport, executive director of the Chapel Hill Museum, had asked for
$16 million instead of $49,000, the Town Council might have approved her funding request. Instead of asking for $34,250 for additional operating expenses plus an extra $15,000 to take care of some maintenance projects that had been deferred, perhaps Davenport should have said she needed $49K to add a coffee shop.

Once the town staff finished crunching the numbers, council saw fit to grant the museum only $20,250. Then council approved a total of $20.4 million in bond sales, which included $16.23 million to add a coffee shop, gift store and extra square footage to the already well-functioning library.

Council members evidently thought that town residents could afford to pay about
$1 million in interest annually on the total bond sale, but that extra $14,000 for the museum seemed insurmountable.

And the $16.23 million only covers what the contract bid expects construction to cost. It doesn’t cover construction overruns (such as the town experienced in building the transit facility) or the additional operating costs. UNC is in the embarrassing position of finishing construction on a state-of-the-art science building but doesn’t have the money to pay the power bill or maintenance costs for it, so students, faculty and researchers won’t be able to use it.

Council member Gene Pease warned that if the town spent all its available debt on the library expansion, it wouldn’t be able to help other organizations that were likely to need assistance in the tough economy. But then he voted for the bond anyway. Council member Laurin Easthom, who voted against the library bond at this time, expects that the money to cover the library’s operating costs will come from a tax increase.

The public school curriculum mandates that students go on field trips to museums, and the Chapel Hill Museum was a popular and cost-effective option. Once the Chapel Hill Museum closes, students will have to be bused out of town to check out museums. More expense, more time out of the school day spent sitting on a bus.

Much was made during the library bond discussions about the image of Chapel Hill. Do we want to be a town with a modest library? No. So, soon we’ll be a town with a bigger library with places to buy refreshments and gifts. And we’ll be a town without a museum.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Anon

     /  June 21, 2010

    IT’s really outrageous that the Town provides subsidies of nearly 100% (when you account for building costs and that CH is half the tax base for the BOCC) for the library) to non-Town residents. Why do residents of northside pay more than residents of Lake Hogan Farms for the library just because one has a Carrboro address

  2. Anon

     /  June 21, 2010

    You nailed this one. The town is going to pay for maintenance on the building regardless of whether the museum is there or not. The magnitude of the library expansion makes this expense a pittance that should have been covered. I can only guess that there must have been some other personal political reasons in the background at play.

  3. Fred Black

     /  June 21, 2010

    Nancy, you seem to put the CHPL and the Chapel Hill Museum on the same footing. The library is a town department and the museum is not. We are blessed with many great non-profits and they make a big difference to our community. Where do we draw the line on funding them?

    As for funding the CHPL, the Town Council does have a choice: continue to accept County dollars that then allow all County residents to use the facility or accept no money from the County and charge a fee as we do for residents of other counties. We have had this battle for years, but only recently have citizens paid any attention. I am also of the opinion that a merger is exactly the wrong solution.

  4. Dale Chodorow

     /  July 5, 2010

    Regarding your “Pound Foolish” blog about the Chapel Hill Public Library and the Chapel Hill Museum, I am reminded of C. Northcote Parkinson’s “Parkinson’s Law,” in which he describes a corporate board of directors that has to decide about building a multi-million-dollar nuclear power plant and also a multi-hundred-dollar bicycle shed requested by employes. Discussion on the nuclear power plant lasts only several minutes, and the project is approved. Discussion on the bicycle shed lasts for nearly an hour, and the issue is tabled for further discussion after a separate committee is formed to study the request. Cf Wikipedia, “Parkinson’s Law of Triviality” and, of course, “Murphy’s Law”.