Clayton leaders say their proposed library fees are about fairness. They argue that Clayton taxpayers shouldn’t have to float the ship for nonresidents, who pay no town taxes.
But some library patrons who’d pay the fees don’t see it that way. They think the proposed charges are either a money-grab or a tax on learning.
Rebecca Bradford, who lives on Amelia Church Road just outside of town, said many patrons can’t afford the “pay to play” plan.
Bradford, a schoolteacher in Wake County, said her 14-year-old son uses the library often.
“Libraries should be open to everyone,” she said. “The very last thing we want to do as a society is put another impediment that keeps people from reading.”
For nonresidents, the fee for a library card would be $25 a year for an individual or $50 annually for a family. Also, nonresidents would pay $5 an hour for Internet use.
Town Manager Steve Biggs said if people don’t think the library is worth $25 a year, they obviously don’t value it highly. Biggs said town leaders never talked about new revenue when putting together the proposed fees. It was about “service equity,” he said, and creating value for in-town residents.
He said nonresidents will have to decide if they want to pay for library uses, just as they do for access to parks and recreation services.
“It’s a matter of consumer choice,” Biggs said.
One of those choices will be to stop using Clayton’s library.
Clayton residents, regardless of where they live, can continue using Johnston County’s affiliated libraries for free.
Clayton’s Hocutt-Ellington Memorial Library is breaking away from the other Johnston County libraries on June 1.
Clayton has been a member of the affiliated libraries for years but is looking for more flexibility and control. The town will get direct access to state grants by setting up its own municipal system. The library will also have its own cataloging system.
Though Clayton’s library has been affiliated with the other Johnston County libraries, it has essentially run its own operation. The library receives no direct funding from the county and pays for its own staff and services.
Clayton did share books and a cataloging system through the county affiliation. But those agreements will go away when Clayton leaves, making it inequitable for the town to serve nonresidents for free, Biggs said.
Several Clayton patrons who would have to pay the fees say they will take their business to another library.
“Out-of-towners” like Michelle Moyer took to Facebook after learning about the proposed fees. Moyer said increasing the cost of town services isn’t the way to make living in-town more desirable, especially when those services involve educating children.
“This is so sad,” Moyer said in her Facebook post. “So while they are working to pull in outsiders to their ‘destination town,’ they are turning the locals away and making them turn to other towns.”
The Town Council has placed the fees on the consent agenda for its April 20 meeting.
In town, out of town
Biggs said putting a price on town services wasn’t as important in the past, when fewer people lived outside of town.
The population outside of town is denser today, and many of those nonresidents use town services even though they pay no town taxes.
For instance, about 9,800 of the library’s roughly 14,500 patrons live outside the town limits. About 550 live outside Johnston County.
Mayor Jody McLeod said in-town residents should get more perks for their dollar. “I hope there’s not a misnomer out there that the Town of Clayton is trying to keep people from using the library,” McLeod said.
When Hocutt-Ellington breaks away from the county network on June 1, it will become a municipal library system. Of the 10 other municipal library systems in North Carolina, only two charge patrons who live outside their town limits. The rest charge fees for people who live outside the county.
Some of the municipal libraries that charge only non-county residents have sharing agreements or receive funding from their county library system.
The Southern Pines Public Library and Roanoke Rapids Public Library charge people who don’t live in the town limits. Southern Pines charges nonresidents $60 annually for a full-access card and $20 for a limited-access card, which allows access to the juvenile and young-adult collections. Roanoke Rapids charges nonresidents $20 a year.
Money to aid collection
Biggs said the fees from out-of-town patrons will go to expand the library’s collection.
By creating a standalone library, Clayton won’t have access to books from other Johnston County libraries. The town earmarked money in its current budget to buy more books and plans to do the same next year. Biggs said any revenue from the new fees will aid in that effort.
A library expansion is something town leaders have also discussed in recent weeks, but the fees won’t go to that, Biggs said.
Clayton recently bought an old Main Street building that could house a satellite library. However, the Town Council hasn’t decided what to do with the building.
“That’s a bigger initiative than (the fees) would be able to support,” Biggs said.
“It would be great to draw so many people to our libraries that they could support this expansion, but that’s not what we are counting on.”
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104
Proposed library fees
In-town resident or taxpayer: no charge.
Nonresident individual: $25 annually, $15 semiannually, $10 quarterly.
Nonresident family: $50 annually.
Town of Clayton employees: no charge.
Employees of in-town Clayton schools: no charge.
Nonresident: $5 per hour.