Balancing our books
We knew at some point some elected official would rise to make the case for a library for downtown Carrboro. We just didnâ€™t know that person would be a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council.
That probably wasnâ€™t council member Matt Czajkowskiâ€™s intention when he chimed in Monday night during discussions about the expansion of the Chapel Hill Public Library. With a budget crunch and the credit crisis making it an iffy year to issue new bonds, the council decided to put off financing expansion at the Estes Drive location.
Noting the options, which include a proposal to start charging non-Chapel Hill residents between $60 and $100 annually to use the library, Czajkowski said it was high time to consider whether Chapel Hill should drop its long-standing policy of treating those from Carrboro and elsewhere the same as town residents.
Why, he asked, should Chapel Hillians subsidize people from Carrboro?
As several teachers have pointed out, one case against the fee is that it would be disruptive because the school system, which makes use of the place, has students from both towns.
Another reason, brought up quickly and succinctly by Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil, is that Orange Countyâ€™s $250,000 in annual support is predicated on that open-door policy and would likely end if the fee is introduced. In the long run, the fee might make sense, Stancil said, but in the short term it would cost the town a quarter mil in annual support.
Czajkowskiâ€™s suggestion that the council consider the fee did not gain traction, but it did draw interest and one day could become part of the long-term solution for Chapel Hillâ€™s library funding woes.
With that possibility on the horizon, it is even more important for the plans to move forward for a new downtown library in Carrboro.
Chapel Hill has a wonderful facility, but the need for a new library to build on the efforts at McDougle is overdue. We know from experience that a larger, more centrally located space would be welcomed. Because of the limited space at McDougle, 30,000 books are waiting in storage to be read.
The big appeal of a downtown library in Carrboro would be greater accessibility, particularly by foot and bicycle, and the opportunity to integrate a key public space with a thriving downtown. Likewise, there are partnerships waiting with The ArtsCenter, the schools and the university.
Most importantly, as Chapel Hillâ€™s experience has shown, there is a huge demand throughout southwestern Orange County for library services. It is time to rise to that challenge.
Moses Carey stepped down from his 24-year service on the Orange County Board of Commissioners last month â€” a lengthy career during which this county has almost doubled in population. His accomplishments on the board are many, and because of his work in health care he brought an important perspective to the boardâ€™s decision-making in how best to serve its citizens.
In addition to his hard work, Careyâ€™s humor and good nature made the often tedious and, at times, exasperating tasks of crafting budgets and setting policy a bit more bearable for his colleagues and those with business before the board.
At a time when courtesy and politics seem an impossible mix, he proved it could be done and done well.