Town wants more library money

Orange County now gives Chapel Hill $250,000 a year, but even that could be cut

Staff WriterJune 5, 2008 

— The town of Chapel Hill wants Orange County to nearly double how much money it contributes to the Chapel Hill Public Library.

Mayor Kevin Foy asked the Orange County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night for $462,000 to help cover the costs of serving library users from outside Chapel Hill. The county now contributes $250,000 a year.

The commissioners did not respond to Foy's request. Orange County's entire contribution might already be on the chopping block to help keep the county property tax from rising much above $1 per $100 assessed value. The board will meet tonight to discuss potential budget cuts.

The county's contribution makes up about 10 percent of the library's $2.6 million operating budget. Foy's request would double that to about 20 percent -- the percentage he says the county contributed 20 years ago.

He also wants the town and county to enter into a long-term agreement about library funding.

"It's an equity issue," Foy said at a recent Chapel Hill Town Council meeting. "Forty percent of our usage is from non-Chapel Hill taxpayers. Chapel Hill pays for 90 percent of operations of the library.

"That is unfair and unsustainable. ... The quality of our library depends on funding."

With the downturn in the economy and most local governments raising taxes this year, the town is looking for ways to save money. The Chapel Hill town manager has proposed an increase of 11.3 percent in the town's property tax rate.

The mayor says the town's expenditures on the library have increased 25 percent in the past seven years, while the county's funding level has stayed the same.

The library off Estes Drive is not part of the county library system, the Hyconeechee Regional Library System. But it serves residents from all over Orange County.

The library has the highest circulation rate per capita in the state for print material, according to 2006-07 measures in the Statistical Report of North Carolina Public Libraries. Wake County Public Libraries has the second highest.

In 2003, voters approved a $16.26 million bond to expand the Chapel Hill Public Library from 27,000 to 75,000 square feet. The library also plans to increase its collection.

(Staff writer Samuel Spies contributed to this report.0

meiling.arounnarath@newsobserver.com or (919) 932-2004

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