Budget busters

The town can’t afford to keep the larger library open as many hours a week as the pre-renovated space without raising taxes or cutting other services. From the beginning the plan for funding the increased operating costs was to raise taxes, but the economy hasn’t exactly bounced back. Now state laws are hitting some of the library’s staunchest supporters – retirees – in their bank accounts. And some Democrats on Town Council seem a little self-conscious about their Republican mindset of making decisions that reshape the town into one that has no room for modest-income residents.

The schedule calls for council to pass a budget tonight, and council has yet to reconcile the numbers. During two work sessions on the budget last week, council members spent a good deal of the time arguing about whether to keep the library open for up to 10 additional hours a week and how to finance it. By the end of the second work session, Wednesday night, they had not reached a consensus. Roger Stancil dug under the sofa cushions to come up with $80,000 of extra revenue from vehicle taxes and about $64,000 more from the county based on its formula for contributing to the library. At $25,000 an hour in library operating expenses, that brings the number of hours per week the library would be open from 58 to almost 64.

The gap could be ameliorated by shifting operating hours – closing the library on Monday, as museums are, and adding those hours to nights and weekends – or tapping volunteers or hiring low-wage workers to handle mundane tasks of re-shelving books that Jim Ward and Sally Greene said are causing professional staff burnout. And those types of solutions might be what library director Susan Brown, hired May 20, comes up with.

Rather than digging in their heels, council members agreed to give Brown a few months to propose alternatives. (And while she’s cogitating, maybe she could boost the efficacy of those flat-screen TVs in the entryway by posting when and where events are being held in the library.)

Listening to the work session discussions, you’d almost forget that we have bigger fish to fry than keeping the library open 64 vs. 68 hours a week. The Police Crisis Unit is facing its own crisis, of the fiscal variety. The town will need to find $64 million to pay the health-care costs of its retirees over the next 30 years. Fire fighters live in fire stations rife with mold. And we’ve been living paycheck-to-paycheck when it comes to capital improvement projects.

Maybe Donna Bell had a hand in getting council to allow breathing room for other budget priorities. She was arrested last week as part of the Moral Monday protests of decisions made by our state legislature intent on balancing the state budget on the backs of the working and middle classes. Perhaps while waiting to be booked, she had time to reflect on what Chapel Hill considers its priorities.
– Nancy Oates

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24 Comments

  1. Linda Convissor

     /  June 10, 2013

    Got a news release from Orange County this morning – looking for applicants to serve on the CH Library Board of Trustees, representing Orange County. bit.ly/11uVKa2.

  2. Del Snow

     /  June 10, 2013

    So why is there opposition to the inclusion of a cost-benefit analysis, NOT done by the applicant, with development proposals?

  3. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 10, 2013

    Its easy to blame the state for our budget woes- but at some point we have to take responsibility for our fiscal realities — whether we like them or not. Taxes and property values are already high.

    Is there much interest in exploring new ideas for an affordable government?

  4. Many

     /  June 10, 2013

    Fred says it’s all OK, and to read the minutes. All will suddenly become clear.

  5. Fred Black

     /  June 10, 2013

    Nancy, it’s easy to see why we have some of problems we have with citizen conversation when you have people like Many who desire to make a mockery of comments made and specialize in ad hominem attacks. This is not the road to progress as a community.

  6. Many

     /  June 10, 2013

    Ahaha ha!

    Oh Fred,

    Get over yourself please. How was my statement ad hominem? It has nothing to do with your character, just a refusal to discuss how things might be better going forward and the defense of the indefensible. That conversation might be progress!

    Answer the questions that [apparently] only [you think] you can answer.

    Me thinks thou doth protest too much, my friend.

  7. Fred Black

     /  June 10, 2013

    I have made it very clear that I will not converse with someone who will not use their name.

    Read previous threads.

  8. J. Smith

     /  June 11, 2013

    Help me understand what’s happening here Mr. Many (whomever you are), what minutes are you talking about?

  9. Many

     /  June 11, 2013

    J Smith,

    Apparently Fred had something to do with the decision surrounding the current library debacle and feels as if he needs to defend what was done. I only want to understand the decisions and see if there is a way to learn from them. I want to understand why certain things that seem obvious to me were seemingly not considered or dismissed; a “post mortem” if you will. I am guilty of ribbing my friend Fred, from a previous thread. See Price vs. Value post #44.

    When probed repeatedly why certain decisions were made about the new Library and not budgeted for, Fred in exasperation told his tormentor (me) to “read the reports” and we would understand. I made the “read the minutes” comment in jest.

    Fred is being a bit thin skinned, but it appears to be in his nature. (BTW THAT was ad hominem, because it goes to character :))

  10. J. Smith

     /  June 12, 2013

    Thanks for the info Mr. Many. I went back to read it and what I saw was a response to Ms. Hauser’s comments about discussions by Orange County, not the CHPL. I looked at the TF reports and they both go into great detail about what OC’s thinking was. Don’t think I want to try to summarize those very large reports! They are, however, worth reading if you want to understand the OC perspective.

    To Ms. Hauser’s point, if CH gave their library to OC, how could the county afford it? They couldn’t just tax CH to get the dollars that CH now spends from its budget. It sounds like OC gets that and at a CH Council meeting, it was stated that the systems were working to be interconnected, but the separate systems would remain. Sounds to me like the right direction to go.

  11. Many

     /  June 12, 2013

    J. Smith

    I respect your opinion. I however disagree . I think Ms. Houser’s point was more that *no one* can afford the Chapel Hill Library. The reason is that the decision makers valued form over function by several orders of magnitude. If I remember correctly, (I only got here in 1982) the systems have been “working to be interconnected” for a very very very long time. Chapel Hill’s island mentality always prefers to be separate, and that is achieved in this and in other cases by driving the cost up. This strategy is becoming costly to Chapel Hill’s residents in taxes and in other ways, for example Chapel Hills long stated goals of homogeneity.

    I think the OC perspective has always been that they would prefer a county system as (for example) Wake County (and almost every other county in the state) has. 20 interconnected library branches that serve a much wider populations at a fraction of Chapel Hills per capita cost.

    To each their own though.

  12. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 13, 2013

    let me clarify. I do recall the discussions when Orange County said, in no uncertain terms, that they could not afford the library that Chapel Hill was planning. But Chapel Hill went ahead, and the county came up with extra funds for it.

    Now – we can’t go backward. Like it or not, the libary is there. So now what. Does Chapel Hill really want a standalone library, that’s not connected to UNC and county resources? (sounds pretty 20th century to me). As county taxpayers, do Chapel Hill residents truly condone a new, $8 million county-run library 3 miles down the road in Carrboro.

    So I’m proposing a discussion – and given that I’m partial to options to share – one idea to put on the table is for Chapel Hill to control the county wide library system – with the county using their control over funding to assure equity. Its just one idea to start the discussion. There are others – including options to cooperate but not merge.

    Like my friend Many asserts – we can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. What disturbs me the most, is the unwillingness to come to the table. And since the county is developing is library strategy without Chapel Hill, they are as culpable.

    Shame on us. What is progressive about any of this?

  13. anon

     /  June 13, 2013

    The main beneficiaries of the current library system are residents of Carrboro and ETJ, county residents who live close to the library. The reality is residents of Chapel Hill pay twice for the library both through town and county taxes. The rest get equal access paying at best 10 cents on the dollar when you consider construction and operational costs. 40% of the tax base is chapel hill residents. I’d be surprised if the county were to build a new library any time in the next decade. After all they can say chapel hill built their own library why don’t you.

  14. Fred Black

     /  June 13, 2013

    Bonnie, more clarification is needed. The money from OC wasn’t for the expansion, it was to help provide service to the OC residents who are not CH taxpayers. OC acknowledged in 2001 that it could not afford to absorb the CHPL, even if asked. I think to get the conversation rolling, you need to talk with the OC Librarian and learn where we are in the interoperability discussions, the legal constraints, no longer belonging to the regional system, and gain insight on what you keep calling the “unwillingness to come to the table.” Factual information helps discussions, which is why so much effort was put into the three Task Forces since 2000.

    There’s more to all of this than you may have been told. And before “Many” goes on his childish rant again, I don’t speak for the Town of Chapel Hill, the CHPL, the Foundation, or the Friends and therefore, I won’t speculate on where they are on these issues. It’s better to go to the sources.

  15. Many

     /  June 13, 2013

    Thank’s for the ad hominem attack Fred 🙂

  16. Diogenes

     /  June 13, 2013

    Glad to see we’ve got Latin back on the “Watch”

  17. Many

     /  June 13, 2013

    Verba movent, exempla trahunt

  18. Diogenes

     /  June 13, 2013

    Obscuris vera involvens

  19. Carpe carp

  20. Diogenes

     /  June 13, 2013

    typicam collationem

  21. Many

     /  June 13, 2013

    Reos solitos postulate!

  22. Nancy

     /  June 13, 2013

    Habla ingles?

  23. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 13, 2013

    Do we have translation books in the library?

    I know that the county budget has an $8 million placeholder for a new library; $600,000 this year. The commissioners are trying to sort through options — and there’s pressure coming from Nerys Levy and others to build the new Carrboro Library downtown (and take it out of McDougle).

    I did know that the county funding was for operations – and its in lieu of charging a fee to out of towners. Once Chapel Hill charges a fee, it cannot get county funding.

    There is also interest in bringing basic internet services to rural community centers in Efland and Cedar Grove – and possibly book drop services.

    So far the discussion has been nebulous and the county has been working in isloation from the town. Hard to tell what’s happened wrt interoperability since the public has not been involved. The next version of the plan is due in November – and from what we can tell, there’s no joint planning process – eventhough there may be some occassional interviews and meetings

    My data is based discussions and reports from the last couple of months.

  24. Many

     /  June 14, 2013

    Bonnie, In other words…….BAU.

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