Season finale

The Town Council season finale airs tonight, beginning at 7. Among the topics up for discussion is whether and how much to charge for library cards.

Last month, council preliminarily rejected Orange County’s contribution to the library and, instead, left open the option of charging out-of-town users for library cards. At present, about 1,400 out-of-county users buy a card for $60 a year. An additional 11,200 of the library cardholders live in Orange County but outside of Chapel Hill. Conservatively, families would buy only one card per household once they had to pay for a card, and assuming an average of 2.5 members per household, the potential market is 4,480 households.

Every one of those households purchasing a card at $60 would yield $268,800 annually, still shy of the $340,000 the county indicated it would pay in the coming year but more than the $250,000 the county said it would pay if it had a bad financial year. If every one of the existing out-of-town cardholders bought a card, the revenue would total $672,000. A little more than half of existing cardholders would have to buy a card to equal the county’s expected contribution, and about a third of existing cardholders would have to purchase a card to equal the county’s $250,000 fall-back contribution.

At its May 25 meeting, council bandied about numbers for what to charge, ranging from $60 to $100 or more annually. Council requested a sliding scale to accommodate low-income users wanting to check out materials. Reports submitted by town manager Roger Stancil and town library director Kathleen Thompson indicate that a sliding scale would not be feasible, given the strain it would put on library personnel who would have to enforce the new rules and verify who would qualify.

Stancil’s recommends the town charge $60 and forgo the sliding scale, in hopes that other entities would help low-income out-of-towners afford cards. Given the value many people place on reading, asking charities and the general public to donate a card to poor families might succeed. The Town of Carrboro might subsidize card purchases for low-income families, and schools might hold fundraisers for card subsidies.

If the town had the capability of issuing monthly cards or accepting monthly payments, that could solve the sliding scale dilemma. A family that could not come up with $60 all at once might very well have an extra $5 a month.

Stancil and Thompson recommend waiting until Jan. 1, 2012, to charge for cards. Orange County will pro-rate its $340,000 annual contribution until Chapel Hill begins charging for cards. Thompson is pessimistic about the number of out-of-towners who will buy a card, counting on no more than 20 percent of potential buyers.

The memos do not state a reason for the pessimism. Given how hard library supporters lobbied for the expansion, clearly they would expect higher sales. Designating the coffee shop and gift shop for members only might stimulate card sales.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. It’s unfortunate that in all the back-n-forth on the Library issue the Council continues to ignore the real elephant in the room – the additional $1.3-1.6M in operating cost above an beyond the current operating budget when the new expansion comes online in 2012. In 2010, Town Manager Stancil said it would add 1.3 cents/$100 valuation to our tax rate but I expect that to be a bit short of the actual mark. The discussion of fees, County contributions should be couched within that context (or expect another round of less than fruitful finger pointing in just a couple years).

  2. Fred Black

     /  June 27, 2011

    I guess some have no problem with Chapel Hill taxpayers covering library costs for those who aren’t and letting OC off the hook on their obligation to provide library services to OC citizens in places where they live. And Nancy, I would have been very disappointed if you had not continued to work the planned coffee shop and gift shop into everything you write about the library.

  3. Runner

     /  June 27, 2011

    I guess some have no problem with Orange County taxpayers covering some of the Chapel Hill library costs with absolutely no control of the spending decisions.

    It works both ways Fred.

  4. Fred Black

     /  June 27, 2011

    Again, you are 100% incorrect on both counts, AGAIN. We are OC taxpayers and the BOCC is represented on the Board. The money that has been paid by OC covers a small portion of the costs to CH. What decisions are you concerned about? Is there a similar model of control that you can point to?

  5. Terri Buckner

     /  June 27, 2011

    I do think the people who use a service should help pay for it. But I resent the way this issue has been handled. The town has made this service available for 30 or more years with no mention of buying a card. Now when they have budget problems, they (volunteers and council members) wage a campaign that makes me feel like a freeloader. It could have been handled very differently. Why didn’t the town survey its users to find out if they were willing to pay a user fee before they started the death-by-guilt campaign of the past year? I would have said yes back then.

  6. Fred Black

     /  June 27, 2011

    Terri, the Council has had this conversation with the BOCC for several years. This is not driven by today’s budget issues but by a recognition that CH could not continue to subsidize the OC users and needed more help, even though the help would not cover costs. Why is it fair for someone over in Durham or Chatham Counties to pay for their useage and certain OC folks not pay their fair share?

    PS: I can show you a 1998 document making this point and the OC Commission chair indicating that they need to do more to help cover the costs. You may feel like a “freeloader” but I feel like I’m being taken advantage of because OC will not provide this service to their citizens who don’t have it or provide a realistic amount to cover the costs to those who are providing it for them.

  7. Terri Buckner

     /  June 27, 2011

    As I said Fred, I have no problem with them charging the fee. I’ve encouraged it since this public discussion began last year. My problem is the process by which we got to this place. It could have and should have been handled without making anyone feel like a freeloader.

  8. Joe

     /  June 27, 2011

    Hence the problem of being a progressive town in a conservative county. One day, after we’re all dead and gone (sorry, WSM… it’s going to take a LONG time), Hillsborough will become progressive and then Orange County and Chapel Hill will be able to work together much easier. But, for the foreseeable future, Chapel Hill is an anomaly in its own county.

    All in all, I think this is a good solution to the problem, and if I move outside of Chapel Hill (again), I’ll happily pay the annual fee to use the library (again). $60 is a pittance for the services provided, especially when compared with the county’s meager offerings.

    Now, let’s get this project moving, because I’m sure that I’m not the only one excited to see the new expanded library when it’s finished!

  9. Runner

     /  June 27, 2011

    Having one seat on the board reminds me of the old saying by John McMullen when he bought a small share of the New York Yankees from George Steinbrenner. “There is nothing more limiting than being a limited partner to George Steinbrenner.”

    If you don’t get it, Chapel Hill is playing the role of George S. here.

    Now get cracking on sharing those books with the County Library, or you can kiss that money goodbye.

  10. Fred Black

     /  June 28, 2011

    Runner, we already share book on a regional basis and have been for years. I’m not sure what you know about this area but it’s clear what you don’t know. If we unify the card catalogs, guess who will be the loosers, the people of Orange County who don’t live in Chapel Hill. Why? Because the most popular books in the highest demand will be requested by CH readers and therefore not available to others.

    What you really want is a merger. Tell us your plan for OC to come up with the 3+ million per year. This is not like merging the schools. Give us your plan please.

  11. Joe Capowski

     /  June 28, 2011

    Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but the proposed fee (that was shot down last night) for
    non-CH, in-county residents was only to check out books and other materials. Whether or not the fee had been imposed, the library would have been open for anyone, for free, to come in the door and read, use the computers, etc. Has anyone ever proposed that to walk into the building, you must either prove you live in CH or have purchased a card?

    What fraction of the cost of running the library pertains to materials that might be checked out? I would speculate that in contrast to running the building and paying the staff, the materials component is quite small. Any knowledge?

  12. Fred Black

     /  June 28, 2011

    Joe, I have never heard anyone talk about an entry check.

    The new budget is at

    Some impact answers on the charging issue is at

  13. Runner

     /  June 28, 2011


    I do not foresee Chapel Hill ever giving up it’s control of the library or the school district.

    I rarely agree with Terri, but this whole episode has been a one sided guilt campaign by the CHTC for more money from the BOCC without adequate discussion on the financial decisions that got us here.

  14. Fred Black

     /  June 28, 2011

    What financial decisions? Fifty plus years ago when CH established its own library the OC leaders saw it as a way for them not to have to fund service in southern Orange. Until CH indicated that OC needed to help support THEIR users not from CH was there any money provided. They still realized the benefit to OC – CH folks not putting demands on the OC system for services and people in southern OC using CH. OC leaders still know that they have a bargain and that’s why they increased the contribution; it still costs them much less than the other option that would force them to take care of all of their citizens.

    Call it guilt if you want but for us taxpayers, I call it being used!

  15. Terri Buckner

     /  June 28, 2011

    Fred, What would the CH library look like today if it served only Chapel Hill residents? If you, as a member of the library board, felt that we non-residents were taking advantage of the town’s taxpayers, why didn’t you advocate for the user fee 10 years ago? I don’t know the whole history of this issue, but as a previously frequent user of the library, I don’t recall anyone ever asking me if I would still use the facilities/services if a fee was imposed.

    To me, this argument breaks down the way so many other community issues do. For one group to get what they feel entitled to means another group (generally one that doesn’t have a stronger voice) goes without. That $90,000 could have been used for mental health services, a Carrboro branch library, Rogers Road, or any number of other services that have been postponed or cut due to economic recession. And what will it give to the people of Chapel Hill? A bigger, fancier library. Now I am all for libraries and don’t believe the technocrats who think they are dinosaurs. I also don’t believe that libraries are luxuries. But although I voted for the bond issue (was a resident at the time), I would not have voted for it today because the economic situation is so very different. The current library may not be perfect, but it is certainly adequate. And adequate is acceptable in my book of values, when anything more means that someone else has to lose basic, necessary services.

    I’m very sorry you feel used. I know there are others in this town who don’t have children and feel equally used due to the school tax.

  16. Fred Black

     /  June 28, 2011

    Terri, in 1997 we did propose to the CHTC that if we couldn’t get an increse to cover the OC users then we needed to go to a system like is in effect for residents of other counties. The political will was not there. OC formed several editions of the Library Task Force to address library needs in OC. Each TF made recommendations but nothing much came of them. Note that there are still parts of the county that have limited library service that OC can’t meet.

    Four years ago when it was becoming more clear that OC was not going to provide more funding Mayor Foy went public and that had not happened before. We can argue this forever but remember that all funding decisions are a trade off and part of a cumulative process. I have never had kids in school here but I don’t see the two issues as similar.

    Fairness seems to be negotiable by whoever is making the case. I pay for two library systems. Merger will not solve the CH issue as I see it; it would make our situation worse but some refuse to acknowledge that OC does not have the money to do it and do it right.

  17. Fred Black

     /  June 28, 2011

    Terri, I forgot – the 90K has absolutely nothing to do with the addition to the library, nothing! It covers services to those using the library. We could be in a mall and that bundle of service costs will not be affected. Wait – we will be in a mall providing services to users.

    Why are you mixing the two issues?

  18. Runner

     /  June 28, 2011

    The operating costs of the Chapel Hill Library are a result of decisions made by the Chapel Hill residents themselves. To now tell the County taxpayers that they are responsible for 40% of the Chapel Hill Library’s costs, without an active role in the financial decison making process, is not a balanced argument.

  19. Terri Buckner

     /  June 28, 2011

    Thanks for the history Fred. You may have made that history available before, but I missed it or just plain forgot.

    I’m not sure which two issues you think I am mixing. But I am still interested in knowing what you think the library would look like without free service to OC residents. Would there still be a need for the expansion? Would it change the demand distribution for services (for example, greater need for young adult books over children’s books), etc.? I suspect that if the county didn’t pay, there would be a rather significant downward shift in demand, but that is pure speculation on my part. Has the library board polled users to get a more informed assessment?

  20. Fred Black

     /  June 28, 2011

    Runner, please follow me here. No one ever said non CH taxpayers are responsible for 40% of the costs; they are 40% of the borrowers and that is what the OC money is offsetting to a small degree.

    Terri, the two issues are expansion and operating costs and you indicated that the 90K is giving CH a “bigger, fancier library.” Just not the case. The director placed some of the info you seek in the memo attached to the mgr’s report in last night’s agenda. I don’t know if the current library board has done any polls, but the demand issues have been examined.

    Ths info is in

  21. Joe Capowski

     /  June 28, 2011

    “I do not foresee Chapel Hill ever giving up it’s control of the library or the school district. ” — Runner.

    Runner, Chapel Hill has nothing to do with the school district. Both school systems, though
    sometimes loosely called the “city schools” and the “county schools” are county functions, by NC law.

  22. Runner

     /  June 28, 2011


    I clearly did not say that the “Chapel Hill Town Council” won’t give up control of the Library or the school district. But, I should have added the work “residents” when I said “Chapel Hill”.

  23. Runner

     /  June 28, 2011

    sp. word

  24. Duncan O'Malley

     /  June 28, 2011

    I have an idea – don’t build the addition!

  25. The expansion is moving forward. $16+ M bonds already let – so we’re picking up that cost already. Lots of interesting discussion here but not a lot of talk about the $1.3M to $1.6M bump in operating expenditures after the Library reopens (projected 2012). That is a 53+% increase based on last year’s $2,419,769 budget. That amounts to a 1.3-1.5 cent increase in the tax rate. The County’s proposal won’t fill that gap and the proposed $60 would have to quickly increase to $90+ just to keep parity. Considering that market forces will probably drive folks away at a $90-100 price point, the increase would probably have to be near double, or $120, in 2013 just to maintain parity.

    So, long story short. We know that in a couple years we face a serious shortfall yet all the recent palaver focused on yesterday’s problem.

  26. Terri Buckner

     /  June 29, 2011

    Yesterday Fred said I was mixing issues between the BOCC paying for current operations and the costs associated with the expansion. He was right because from my perspective the two are totally entwined. The timing of the public discussion over charging non-residents for cards has occurred at the same time as the discussion over whether to continue with the bond initiative to expand the library. Apparently to those who are insiders to this issue, that timing is coincidental.

    After reading the projected incomes in the documents used for Monday night’s discussion though, I have to agree with Will. Why have the discussion about how to pay for current operations when it’s the expansion that is at hand? If non-residents constitute 60% of the demand, then for an annual budget of $2.5M (current), the town would need to collect %1.5M from the county and sale of cards. The county is offering $340,000 so that means another $1.1 M is needed from card sales. None of the projections for households meet that target and at a cost of $100 per person, 11,200 cards would have to be sold. And that’s for the current budget, not the expansion budget. That’s a pipe dream if ever there was one. It’s equally unbelievable that the county is going to pay anywhere close to $1M a year. So no matter what happens, the residents of Chapel Hill are going to continue paying for non-residents to use their expanded library. But if the non-residents don’t buy the library card and the demand for services drops by 30% (assumes half buy cards), is the expansion still needed? Or is this debate going to rage on well into the future? I don’t see any feasible resolution.

  27. FYI, OC Library Service budget suggested funding 2011-2012 $2.168M. That includes Chapel Hill’s subsidy plus services throughout the County. I don’t believe the new capital expenditure and other attendant costs for the Carrboro branch has been factored into the forward projections.

  28. Fred Black

     /  June 30, 2011

    Terri, demand does not drop by 30%. “Usage” is what is counted, and that is a user who checks out a book. It could be one or 40 at a time. It does not include reference questions, program attendance in the meeting rooms, or simply sitting down and reading a book or magazine.

    One has to talk about the present operation because until there is an addition, that’s what it’s all about. In prep for renting the temp. space, for example, the staff retuced the multiple copy purchases of requested books so some are waiting longer for the most in demand materials. I seriously doubt that 24 weeks is accurate but the time is longer than it was because there is not the money to buy the books – the library has to pay the rent. OC contributions will help offset daily costs, not the expansion.

    And yes, the Council action does not solve the issue, it only delays the crunch to come. Matt C was right, the people of CH will continue to fund library use for those in OC. You are right Terri, OC can’t pay what they should, nor can they afford to take over operations if there ever were a merger, OR fund library services for OC citizens who are not served as they would like to be served. That last point is exactly why CH and nine other municipalities opted out of their county systems.

  29. Nancy Oates

     /  June 30, 2011

    Don is a fan of Carl Hiaasen, as are many library patrons, evidently. The waiting list at the library for Hiassen’s latest book was 12 deep when Don went in to check it out. If each reader keeps it for 2 weeks, there’s your 24 weeks.

  30. Fred Black

     /  June 30, 2011

    How many copies are there on hand? Just one?

  31. Terri Buckner

     /  July 1, 2011

    If half of current users are lost because they can’t or don’t want to purchase a library card, it’s going to equate to fewer checked out books (what I was calling demand in my last post). Obviously that will translate into better service for users like Don who won’t have to wait or wait as long for certain books. But what does that mean for the business decisions of the library? Will they continue to operate as they are doing now or will they reduce the number of purchases to reflect those 6,000 lost patrons? (Let’s ignore the changes due to temporary location for the sake of this discussion.)

  32. Fred Black

     /  July 1, 2011

    I think that only the leadership can answer that.

  33. Runner

     /  July 1, 2011


    You said that Orange County isn’t paying what it “should”. That, to me, is a subjective statement.

    Would you join a gym that demands that your membership fee is x% of its operating costs? No you wouldn’t. If you were told to contribute x% of the cost, you would want x% of control of those costs.

    Orange County is spending $250,000 in 2011 and $340,000 in 2012 for about 4,400 library cards. To me, that’s a fair deal.

  34. Fred Black

     /  July 1, 2011

    You win Runner, your logic on this, just like your grasp of the November elections, is a show-stopper, especially if you really believe that the discussed cost of a card really covers costs.

    I’m now on vacation!

  35. Runner

     /  July 1, 2011


    I don’t believe that the cost of the card covers the library costs. I merely believe that the county is not responsible for covering the library’s costs without a valid say in said costs.

    Enjoy your vacation.

  36. Nancy Oates

     /  July 2, 2011

    Good point on the number of copies, Fred. I checked, and the library has 3. That cuts the wait to 8 weeks.
    Runner, I don’t think the gym membership analogy works, because I believe the cost of gym membership is calculated to pay the operations costs. Owners consider likely demand and what competitors are charging and set the membership fees expecting to cover their costs and make a profit. My say in how they operate comes through my decision of whether to buy a membership. Sometimes they have to market to recruit new members to meet their projections. For government-sponsored businesses, our taxes are our membership fees.