Leading from the Left

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Equitable Library Service

A recent decision by the Board of County Commissioners has led some in the community to question the BOCC commitment to library services. The perception of a lack of commitment is unfounded, in my opinion, but misperceptions in politics are powerful and have to be addressed.

In November, the County Commissioners announced plans for a new 25,000 square foot Orange County library centrally located in Hillsborough. The swift decision to create this new facility in Hillsborough has led to some consternation amongst advocates for a branch library serving the Southwestern portion of the county.

The new Hillsborough facility is desparately needed. Our county needs a new, improved facility that will meet the needs of Central/Northern Orange County in the 21st century. The current Orange County library is old and cramped, and I fully support the construction of a new facility.

Additionally, I firmly believe the Board of Commissioners is committed to following through on the 2004 Library Task Force report--a report that called for BOTH a new, larger central library in Hillsborough and a southwest branch library located in Carrboro.

But the advocates for a southwestlibrary are right to keep pressure on the Board of Commissioners to lay plans for a branch library in Carrboro.

The primary sticking point, in my opinion, is the issue of cost sharing. A year ago, the previous BOCC told Carrboro that they expected the town to pay 50% of any branch library located in the Town of Carrboro. This formula bears an undue hardship on Carrboro for the simple reason that smaller towns have a smaller budgets and shallower revenue streams. To understand Carrboro's objection to the proposed cost-sharing formula, it's important to understand the full impact. Let's look at a hypothetical example.

Say that a new libary cost $2 million. Under the County's proposed 50-50 cost sharing formula, Carrboro would be expected to cough up $1 million. Here's where the financial hardship arises: for Carrboro taxpayers, $1 million equals roughly 8 cents on their tax rate. For county tax payers on the other hand, $1 million equals less than 1 cent on the tax rate.

It's also important to recognize that under this scenario Carrboro's tax payers would be paying twice. Yes, twice. They'd be paying through their Carrboro taxes AND their county tax assessment. How fair is that?

Another key problem in the 50-50 proposal floated by the previous BOCC is that the southwest branch library will serve a large portion of southern Orange County, not just Carrboro residents. So the commissioners currently expect Carrboro tax payers to fund a library that will serve a large portion of folks outside the town limits.

The County does not expect the residents of Hillsborough to pay 50% of the costs of a libary there. Nor do they expect Cedar Grove or Efland to pay 50% of libaries located there. So, why single out one community in the County to bear a burden not borne by others?

The current cost sharing plan on the table needs to be revisited, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to reevaluate the county’s position on sharing the cost of that facility. I am looking forward to exploring other options so this much anticipated facility can be built expeditiously.

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