Chapel Hill Library Funding: Orange County Commissioners Respond, Kind Of…

Final bit of business from this evening’s Orange County Board of Commissioner’s meeting.

A couple weeks ago, members of the Council, Commissioners, our Town and County managers, met to discuss increasing the County’s financial contribution to Chapel Hill’s Library.

As of today, the County’s current yearly $250K contribution is out-of-line with out-of-town usage. In effect, Chapel Hill subsidizes, and has subsidized by as much as $6M over the last decade, County residents use of our facilities.

If Chapel Hill elects to expand the Library (which it seems at this point Council will do irrespective of fiscal prudence), that subsidy will swell.

Now, it isn’t the County’s fault that Chapel Hill’s Council wants to take on another $1.3M in yearly operational costs (and another $2.3M in yearly bond payments) during the worse economic downturn since the Great Depression but they did commit to answering Council’s pleas for more bucks.

Tonight the County Manager proposed [PDF] to raise the contribution to $500,000 or %50 of Hillsborough’s main library budget (which services Hillsborough and beyond). The increase to $500,000 would be graduated over time and level out.

This is below the initial $700K figure thrown out a few weeks ago and well below the $1.1 million ( of an eventual $2 million OC library services budget) Chapel Hill calculates as the County’s “fair share” of support necessary after the expansion.

FYI, Orange County’s current library services budget – which was reduced by $162,000 in all areas EXCEPT for Chapel Hill’s $250,000 stipend – is now down to $1.2 million.

In other words, while the County’s budget for services outside of Chapel Hill dropped %11.7, Chapel Hill’s, as a percentage of the available funds, increased from %18.1 to %20 – a rare increase in this year’s County budget [PDF].

Below are my notes from this evening’s discussion (video here eventually):

Note: Southwest branch refers to a proposed new facility serving Carrboro and points west. Barry Jacobs suggested opening branch at the County’s Skill Development Center on West Franklin St.

Frank Clifton, County Manager – The proposal outline came from our meeting with Chapel Hill and is presented for your discussion.

Steve Yuhasz – has there been any additional meetings?

Frank – not since the first meeting, Chapel Hill backed off their original deadline…

Barry Jacobs – communicated with Chapel Hill Council member Gene Pease via phone – said Gene was much more sympathetic about county’s financial issues – feels that Gene showed a more collaborative approach than at the initial equity meeting

Steve Yuhasz – hard to see how we can evaluate Chapel Hill funding outside of the rest of the County’s library funding commitments – including a southwest branch – comfortable with current funding but thinks any increase should be discussed within the funding of a southwest branch – since library funding has been discussed within a context of school funding maybe need to rethink how allocations are assessed in budget – including breaking out library funding outside of its support for education – other costs aren’t directly allocated against school budget – nurses, resource officers not counted – why libraries?

Alice Gordon – we should come up with a message for Chapel Hill soon – should respond to them as best as we can at this point – base funding on allocation to Hillsborough library funding percentage – thinks we should do something this year for the Chapel Hill Library – what? Unsure at this point in discussion…

Bernadette Pelissier – not sure that we should do something given this year’s and next year’s budget – need to consider wider context “the big picture” – without knowing allocations for library expansions/operations county-wide we don’t know how much to allocate to either Chapel Hill or the southwest branch or other facilities – “we’re stuck” “I don’t know what we should do in the short term”

Mike Nelson – initial discussion with Chapel Hill Council members Pease and Greene colored his thinking – the fact that Chapel Hill Library’s $250K contribution didn’t get cut when every other department took one deserve some recognition [CW: $162K cut for Orange County libraries] – demands for more money didn’t sit well with him – agrees we have underfunded Chapel Hill system but given the money difficulties doesn’t see how to get another $500K in the short term – agrees with Yuhasz that there’s a broader context – need to know where we’re going with the southwest branch – “regrets that there’s no money to give them this year, especially because he initially commited to do so” – we need to put together a longer term plan – within the next 6 months….jokes about leaving then [CW: Mike’s not running again] – would like to have firm plan before he leaves…

Barry Jacobs – we shouldn’t cut Orange County library budget to feed Chapel Hill’s needs – “doesn’t make sense” – “treat Range County library system as equally well as any other system” – asks that a proposal he drafted be placed on the June 15th agenda – asks BOCC to direct staff to evaluate a consolidated southwest branch in light of tight fiscal realities – need a systematic search for southwest branch – use carrboro lib branch criteria developed in 2004 – do it in cooperation with the municipalities – look at rental/build options – consider within context of cuts at Carrboro’s Cybrary/McDougle School – as Mike Nelson said – what we do in southwest Orange County will have an effect of the Chapel Hill Library usage – we need to understand that

Alice Gordon – makes sense we need a plan – we’ve had 3 task forces already – everyone in the county pays for library services – important that we have a collaborative approach among all the libraries – “not sure what we are going to tell Chapel Hill” as yet…

Mike Nelson – “I support a site search for a southwest library”,”thorough”,”start big narrow down to a few options” – clear criteria – data driven “why one place and not another” – thinks that the skills center is a problematic site – “lots of emotion around the site” – need to use a data based approach to selecting site

Nerys Levy – Friends of Carrboro Branch Library – member of 3 county library task forces – constant theme was how Chapel Hill had to absorb demand for library service by Orange county residents [CW: outside Chapel Hill, of course] – 22K books at McDougle School are locked up everyday until the branch opens at 4pm – 8 hours service on the weekends only – we need to know why Chapel Hill decided to go its own way – most southwest residents would appreciate a library close to home – big digital divide in southwest county – argues comprehensive system of accessible branches – combine McDougle/Cybrary and open in storefront in Carrboro now – this would eliminate 8500 non-Chapel Hill residents using Chapel Hill Library

Valerie Foushee – agrees we need to increase to some extent – wants to move forward at this point – not comfortable with proposed %50 payment scheme going on forever… doesn’t think cedar grove should be off the table in perpetuity – doesn’t think amount based on one main library (Hillsborough) makes sense…

Frank Clifton – no historical basis for %50 payment other than based on two libraries extent at the time

Valerie Foushee – BOCC should collectively direct staff instead of her and Bernadette – not responsibility of chair/vice-chair to direct staff – wants board direction on next steps

Steve Yuhasz – the main library supported back when initial Chapel Hill contribution rate set was a different beast – %50 number back then had a much less impact of the county budget – not the case now – shouldn’t preclude using the Skills Development Center if it meets the criteria already set by the various task forces – not interested in creating a temp library in a storefront to replace a “temp library” at McDougle School

Bernadette Pelissier – Doesn’t want her and Valerie Foushee to be only people putting this on the agenda – wants to understand if the BOCC is looking for permanent vs temporary solution now – “is this a permanent solution” – “doesn’t want to invest a lot of staff or community time” in a temporary solution

Pam Hemminger – “discussion gets complicated because we address this” issue in bits and pieces – wants a comprehensive plan – work with municipalities to make southwest branch succeed and work for all citizens – Chapel Hill/Carrboro/Orange County together – need collaboration discussions with Hillsborough/Carrboro/Chapel Hil – “we need to decide what our [library] goals” are – “need to communicate this to our partners” – wants the BOCC to decide what the long term approach is – we don’t have money – not sure what they can do

Alice Gordon – C.I.P. [CW: Capital Improvements] – started budgeting for a southwest library – “if we’re going to do a search, it needs to be a principled search” – not comfortable relocating into Skills Center – Skills Center in one of the poorest census tracts in the county – doesn’t want to displace Skills Center – “it was put there for a principled reason” – to meet the training needs of an underserved section of the county – “it’s getting more and more difficult to imagine” solution – “[decision] can’t be broken up into modules” “I don’t see, now, how we can even break it up into modules”

Mike Nelson – discussion about southwest branch complicates issue – need to focus on a 3 year plan to fund the southwest branch – increase funding to Chapel Hill – “a letter of understanding” to Chapel Hill which lays out the plan – including talking about interoperability issues – “we’re not going to open a southwest branch this year – we know that isn’t going to happen”

Barry Jacobs – just wants to open discussion on southwest branch not necessarily make Chapel Hill funding issue contingent on that discussion – “gets really tired being on the Board of Commissioners talking about this – it’s like economic development – we talk about it but never move forward on it” – needs to move forward with a search – “call it a principled search” – “whatever” – but need to move on southwest branch along with other discussions

Mike Nelson – moves to create a 3 year plan to meet the funding needs of southwest libraries including increasing funding of Chapel Hill Library – memo of understanding outlines “interoperability issues, etc.”

Steve Yuhasz – important we have a plan – “we need a plan” but doesn’t want to commit to continually funding Chapel Hill Library – especially at the current level irrespective of discussion about other southwest library facilities – that the current or proposed funding is not permanent and that the BOCC doesn’t create an expectation that the levels of funding Chapel Hill is asking for and what Mike Nelson is suggesting [CW: $700K to start with] is a permanent commitment

Mike Nelson – agrees with Steve referencing Barry Jacobs’ discussion with Chapel Hill that a formula be created that takes into account other factors such as southwest library or as other plans unroll

Valerie – “better spell that out” referring to vagueness of Mike Nelson’s “etc.” motion

Mike Nelson – “create a formula that addresses future” changes – ala southwest branch – interoperability

Barry Jacobs – kick it back to staff – “when we create a motion like this [w/o being written down] we get in trouble ” – Mike Nelson – “I agree”

Frank – agrees it should be written down including setting a 5 year horizon on the memo of understanding – asks BOCC “if you come up with a plan will it stand outside” other county government obligations? – points out library services are just one part of budget – generally subject to cuts – “plans that standalone generally have their own funding source” – reductions in County outlays should mean reductions in Chapel Hill outlays [CW: not the case this year, as Chapel Hill saw a percentage increase over last year’s budget]

Mike Nelson – on his motion before the BOCC – “this is a roadmap” to where we want to go….

Barry Jacobs – as topic wraps gets a bit upset – Valerie doesn’t want to put his proposal on the agenda for June 15th – “if we were 6 Republicans and 1 Democrat and the 1 Democrat couldn’t get something on an agenda” we would be upset – “if a commissioner asks for something on an agenda, it should be there” – Valerie says she understands what he’s asking for but defers – I believe this means Barry Jacobs’ doesn’t get his request on June 15th’s agenda – a bit of melodrama at the end there…


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