Charge for the card

Town Council reached the end of its rope last Wednesday night when it came to the county’s unwillingness to make a larger contribution toward the town’s library budget. Laurin Easthom and Matt Czajkowski led the call to begin charging non-town residents a fee for a library card to check out books. (Everyone could still use the computers and reading materials free onsite.)

Despite the still sluggish economy, now is the time to charge out-of-town users, Easthom and Czajkowski said. With the library moving to much smaller temporary quarters in a matter of months, library capacity will be strained. Reducing the demand would ease some of the stress, and presumably by charging out-of-towners for a library card, the library would lose some patrons. Because the library already charges out-of-county users $60 a year for a card, a system is in place to extend the charge to people who live in Orange County but outside of Chapel Hill.

Council members unanimously agreed that, as long as a sliding fee scale or other arrangements could be made to ensure that low-income out-of-towners could still check out books, the town would turn down the county’s offer of $250,000 and try to make up the loss through library card fees.

Town manager Roger Stancil estimated that the card fees would bring in only $100,000 to $150,000 a year, and that the library budget would have to be reduced to handle the shortfall (his budget counted on the full $250,000). Czajkowski proposed raising the fee (which has been the same for years) to $100 and begin marketing the library to retain out-of-town users. After all, as one library supporter pointed out, town residents are paying only “the cost of a weekly latte” for the library expansion. Surely some out-of-town library patrons would consider library use worth that amount. Retaining 2,500 out-of-town users would make up the shortfall.

In marketing the library to out-of-towners, the library might look at San Francisco’s system of putting book vending machines at high-traffic transit stops. Select a book, swipe your library card, and you’ve got a good read for your commute.

Considering aid to low-income out-of-towners is compassionate on the part of the council; it is not the town’s responsibility. Bear in mind that Chapel Hill has just gifted back to the county an extra $250,000 at least. The county could use some of that money – already designated for library funding for Orange County residents – to subsidize library card fees for low-income residents. If the county balks, it would not be the town denying access to low-income users; it would be the county making that draconian decision.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Runner

     /  May 30, 2011

    Merge the 2 systems. End of discussion.

  2. Duncan O'Malley

     /  May 30, 2011

    Stop the construction for the new addition. End of discussion.

  3. Runner

     /  May 30, 2011

    So let me get this straight, the Town of Chapel Hill gets $250,000 every year from the County for allowing county residents the right to use the Chapel Hill Library. However, if the Town of Chapel Hill charged the county residents to use the Library, then the Town of Chapel Hill would only earn about $150,000.

    If that’s the case, then the County taxpayer are currently paying the Town of Chapel Hill about $100,000 too much.

  4. Runner, you have to remember that something like 48% of the county property tax is paid for by town of CH residents. So by your math, the out of town county residents are currently only paying $125k.
    And the estimate of $150k is based on an arbitrary amount ($60) and projections of how many people will pay separately for what they get covered by taxes today. It has no relationship to what the service costs or even any real analysis of what the service could be valued at.

  5. Fred Black

     /  May 30, 2011

    Yes Runner, because all who now use it would not buy the card. Your math is based on the wrong assumptions.

    Why is the solution a merger? Where do you think OC would get the funds to operate what is now the CHPL? The would have to tax the entire County to come up with the 3+ mil each year OR we would go back to inadequate service and support. Tere are good reasons why we have a separate library in CH.

    So how long should CH taxpayers carry the load for non-CH tqaxpayers. I have been asking that question since 1998 and the OC support is the same dollar amount.

  6. Joe Capowski

     /  May 30, 2011

    Whenever a town provides a county function, it double taxes its citizens to pay twice for the same service. The CH library is a (text)book example, which the town started and expanded once — about to be twice — with its eyes wide open. CH wanted better library service than the county was willing to fund. So we built our own. Actually the finances are harsher than that, because the CHPL has always provided library services to school kids, relieving some burden on the schools (i.e., county) in their provision of libraries in the schools.

    Nonetheless, it’s a very high level of service that CH people want and have been willing to pay for. In tough times, I would agree with the council to start looking into charging
    fees to the out-of-towners. I don’t believe, however that it will work as a lever to convince the county commissioners (that’s us, too) to ante up more library funds for CH.

  7. Runner

     /  May 30, 2011

    The Chapel Hill Library is run by the government of Chapel Hill. The Chapel Hill authorities make all its fiscal and policy decisions.

    If Chapel Hill wants to charge Orange County residents a fee to use their library, then the Orange County government should not be compelled to fund Chapel Hill’s Library. That $250,000 can be redirected to the Orange County Library, which just so happens to allow Chapel Hill residents to use it for free.

  8. Fred Black

     /  May 31, 2011

    Runner, you seem to miss the thrust of the issue. We CH taxpayers ARE citizens of OC. You said merge; don’t think you understand what you are asking.

  9. Walker

     /  May 31, 2011

    Runner –

    almost half of the county tax base is from Chapel Hill residents; whether you want to believe it or not.
    And yes, Chapel Hill residents want better schools and better libraries than most of the County is willing to pay for so merging would degrade services to an unacceptable degree.

  10. Runner

     /  May 31, 2011


    I don’t care if the two libraries merge. I just think it would be more efficient if they did.

    What I’m saying is that the Chapel Hill Library is run by Chapel Hill. A county voter cannot influence the people who control the Chapel Hill Library. It is the voters of Chapel Hill that approve the Library’s bond issues and vote for the Town Council members. The county voters play no role in the direction of the Chapel Hill Library. However, a Chapel Hill voter can influence the direction of the county library.

    Unless the town of Chapel Hill wants to allow the county residents to vote on library issues, then this is a Chapel Hill controlled entity and should be funded by Chapel Hill.

    Right now the County has a group purchase in place for membership into the Chapel Hill Library for it’s non-Chapel Hill citizens. If Chapel Hill wants to forego that arrangement, so be it.

  11. Fred Black

     /  May 31, 2011

    Under NC General Statutes, if a municipal library (there are nine now I believe) accepts support from its home county then those residents can have access to the facility. OC contributed to CH over the years to help the other residents of southern OC, ie Carrboro, because they could not afford to build a real branch there. As the using population grew, the money did not, so that meant CH taxpayers were carrying the burden. OC also has agreed that they need to contribute more. Not accepting funds will mean that other OC residents will pay just like those from Durham, Chatham, Wake, Alamance, etc.

    BTW, OC has a rep on the Library Board of Trustees.

  12. Fred Black

     /  May 31, 2011

    PS: Runner, it would NOT be more efficient if they merge. See Joe’s comment above. As I pointed out, the money is just not there, so how is that more efficient?

  13. Runner

     /  May 31, 2011


    I know that the 2 libraries will never merge. So, Chapel Hill has a decision to make. Should it charge county residents or accept funds from the county government?

    If they charge county residents, they may get up to $150,000 per year. If they continue to accept funds from the county, they will get $250,000 per year, with the potential to get more.

    The “go it alone” math doesn’t add up. To me, this whole public discussion is just another tactic in the funding negotiations.

  14. Walker

     /  May 31, 2011

    If Chapel Hill actually charges ( a good thing IMHO) and doesn’t give out too many free cards to non-residents; than usage will drop ;
    Chapel Hill will then reduce operating expenses by downsizing staff and wait lists for books (which can be months) right now will get shorter. So perhaps in the end the Town resident will actually have a better experience. I know many popular books have 2-3 month waits and would be happy to see the time decrease.

    Runner – there is no fantasy world where the County can use Chapel Hill property taxes to build and run libraries and not let CH residents use them.

    I also don’t see why the Town of CH doesn’t just give financial aid/sliding scale requests to the County and let them pay for them.

  15. Walker

     /  May 31, 2011

    Runner – Merging would only be fair if the County paid back the Town
    for all the capital costs for library construction and $16 million expansion; otherwise it is just a gift
    to the county non-town residents.
    But since this is never going to happen it doesn’t matter. Merging of any service really doesn’t make as much financial sense (savings) as people think; If you merge the schools you can get rid of one superintendent but the remaining superintendent would command a higher salary etc…. the same would be true for fire, police etc…

  16. Runner

     /  May 31, 2011


    Your premise is wrong. Chapel Hill has not paid one cent of the $16 miilion for the expansion. All they did was issue debt for the expansion. If the 2 Libraries merged, the expanded library and its debt would be transferred to a merged County Library system. That is not a gift, but an additional burden for the entire County.

    In my opinion, if the Library bond issue vote was opened up to the county residents, then there would be no expansion. Also, the 2 Libraries will not merge because Chapel Hill will never want to give up control of its library.

    That being said, the town has a decision to make, accept $250,000 per year from the county and continue to lobby for more money or walk away from the $250,000 per year and charge county residents. The latter choice only gets the library about $150,000 per year.

  17. Fred Black

     /  May 31, 2011

    Runner, your math argument is still wrong. At the last Council meeting, the agenda packet had a chart showing the impact of greater funding from OC. Best case was 2014-15 proposed amt. of $472,500. That takes us from 10% of the CHPL budget by OC today with $250,000 to 14% at the proposed new amount. How does that make sense if 40% of users are non-CH taxpayers. The CH taxpayers cover 86% of the budget for 60% of the usage? Please!

  18. Runner

     /  May 31, 2011


    The Chapel Hill taxpayers control 100% of the Library’s actions and fiscal decisions. If you want the County to own more of the burden, give them more control. Chapel Hill is the entity setting the budget.

  19. Runner

     /  May 31, 2011


    If I allowed you to ride in my car 40% of the time, but asked that you share 40% of the expense of owning and operating my car, wouldn’t you want to have a say in the cost of the car?

  20. Walker

     /  May 31, 2011

    Runner – you keep forgetting capital costs.

    I’ll make you a deal; please buy a Ferrari Mondial Convertible (that you pay for on your credit); Let me drive it 40% of the time
    and I will pay you 14% of the operating costs in 5 years and I’ll pay you 11% this year – but remember I get to drive it 40% of the time. This is the deal the County is offering and no one would ever except it – I’ll even put premium gas in the tank.

  21. Terri Buckner

     /  May 31, 2011

    I’m happy with the decision to charge out-of-town users. The debate has gone on long enough. Now that $250,000 a year should go toward building the Carrboro branch of the OC library.

    I am happy to pay the $100 user fee, if I ever decide to use the CH library again (which I probably won’t since this whole positioning issue has totally disgusted me). I’m tired of Chapel Hill thinking they are so special that they need their own library in addition to what the county offers. They made a decision years ago to fund their own library so that they could control all the decisions, but now that they want an expansion but don’t have the fluid funding flexibility they’ve had in the past, they want to change the rules and demand more “equal” funding. Of course, if they were to get more money, it would mean something else has to give, whether that loss is more cuts to human services or yet another delay in building a southern branch of the OC library. But that’s the way it works these days–it doesn’t matter what someone else might lose, it only matters what you get. I’m really quite tired of the attitude that we always need more and more because goodness knows a little sacrifice, like occasionally having to stand in line for 5-10 minutes to check out or wait for a couple of months for a new book, is just too much to ask.

  22. Walker

     /  May 31, 2011

    It’s actually better for CH residents if they get to charge fair cost for a card. If the BOCC wasn’t afraid of raising taxes; CH residents would be paying more through their property taxes than they will with a charge system – Eventually when usage drop adjustments are made.

  23. Runner

     /  May 31, 2011


    The alternative is for me (The Town of Chapel Hill) to earn even less money if I charge you to use my Ferrari each time. Since you (the county) has several of your own cars (libraries) to operate, why would you pay any more than you are already giving me?

    In addition, I (the town) chose the Ferrari instead of the Chevy, you (the county) had no say in what car I chose.

  24. Walker

     /  May 31, 2011


    agreed – the Town should not let me drive their Ferrari and I should be happy driving my Gremlin. Solution found! (which I believe is instituting a charge )

  25. Joe

     /  May 31, 2011

    Terri:”I’m tired of Chapel Hill thinking they are so special that they need their own library in addition to what the county offers.”

    Pretending that Chapel Hill and the rest of Orange County have anything in common other than an imaginary “county” line is a waste of time. Chapel Hill is a unique city, with unique demographics, and unique wants and needs. Left to Orange County, the library in Chapel Hill (if there were one) would not acceptable to many of us who use the library regularly. Orange County, outside of Chapel Hill/Carrboro is traditional “red state” demographics (no, a Weaver St. Market located in Hillsborough doesn’t begin to balance out TWO Wal-Mart’s built within two miles of each other), complete with a majority of people who don’t use libraries, and care nothing about local government other than shaving nickels off of their tax bills. Have you been into an Orange County library? I have, and I was not impressed.

    As a Chapel Hill home and business owner, I’m fine with footing the bill for expanded library services. That’s part of the reason I live here. If I wanted el-cheap-o taxes, and cut rate county services, I’d be living in a tract house east of Raleigh.

    It’s time to cut the county loose, continue building our own library, and charge non-Chapel Hillians for access.

  26. Terri Buckner

     /  May 31, 2011

    Joe: “Orange County, outside of Chapel Hill/Carrboro is traditional “red state” demographics (no, a Weaver St. Market located in Hillsborough doesn’t begin to balance out TWO Wal-Mart’s built within two miles of each other), complete with a majority of people who don’t use libraries, and care nothing about local government other than shaving nickels off of their tax bills. ”

    I know a lot of people who live in the county, and we are not at all typical “red staters” as you claim. Your implication is that those of us who live outside of Chapel Hill don’t read, don’t care about education, and don’t care about politics. Well, I’d match my reading choices against yours anytime. But I’m happy using the university libraries or buying my own books rather than forcing additional taxes on a public that struggles to live in southern Orange Co. I care about local, state, and national politics but have no idea what having 2 Wal-marts has to do with political demographics. Does anyone really believe that a county government should cater to a single political persuasion?

    Now I’m off to study my tax bill and see if there aren’t some nickels I can shave off my tax bill and get a fresh chaw of ‘baccy.