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Council to wait on charging Orange County library patrons

Councilwoman Laurin Easthom wanted to plan for a non-resident library user fee starting next July, and colleague Matt Czajkowski wanted to start even sooner than that, but the rest of the Town Council decided Monday to give the Orange County commissioners a chance to increase their funding to the Chapel Hill Public Library next fiscal year.

The town has been complaining for years that county residents from outside Chapel Hill borrow 40 percent of the library’s materials but the county pays only about 10 percent of the library’s budget – not even accounting for what Chapel Hill residents pay toward the county’s own libraries in Hillsborough and Carrboro. But commissioners recently decided they couldn’t pay any more than their standard $250,000 for the fiscal year beginning next month.

Easthom suggested forfeiting that money and charging county residents an annual fee just like the library charges patrons from outside Orange County. The council has not considered a specific fee proposal, but non-county residents pay $60 per year to use the town’s library.

Commissioners to discuss extra 1/4-cent sales tax

The Orange County Board of Commissioners could decide tonight whether to ask voters to approve an additional 1/4-cent sales tax in a November referendum.

Current state and county sales taxes add up to 7.75 percent in Orange County, and the new tax would bring the total to 8 percent.

Commissioners have not yet decided how they would use the extra sales tax.

Because of the economic recession, the county's share has been dwindling along with overall state sales tax revenues. A memo from County Manager Frank Clifton suggests additional sales tax would decrease the county's reliance on property taxes.
The quarter-cent tax would generate about $2.3 million per year, according to the memo.

Under current law, the new tax could take effect no sooner than July 1, 2011, but the N.C. General Assembly is considering a bill that would move up the permitted start date to April 1, creating a potential revenue stream of about $575,000 for the last three months of next fiscal year.

Commissioners need to decide by mid-August whether to take the referendum to the voters, but they'll soon go on summer break. Clifton is also asking them to consider spending $40,000 to educate voters on the additional tax and how it would be used.

Hillsborough wants county lawsuit tossed

The Town of Hillsborough has filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Orange County government over parking at the county’s newly renovated courthouse.

The lawsuit between the two local governments – “fortunately, a rare occurence,” town attorney Bob Hornik said – names the town and the Hillsborough Board of Adjustment as defendants. The town filed its response Tuesday.

The town has refused to grant the county a certificate of occupancy for the Orange County Justice Facility because the county has not provided additional parking the town says the county promised.

Hillsborough Police hosting youth basketball camp

The Hillsborough Police Department is now signing up participants for its 2010 Basketball Camp.

The camp for youths ages 10 to 18 years old will be 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., July 26-30, in the gymnasium at C.W. Stanford Middle School, 308 Orange High School Road in Hillsborough.

A registration fee of $5 will go toward a pizza party on the last day of camp.

To sign up, visit the Community Policing Substation, 501 Rainey Ave., to fill out the necessary paperwork. The camp will be limited to 60 participants.

For more information, contact Cpl. Tereasa King at 732-2441, ext. 26.    

In defense of Office Depot contracts

Chapel Hill Carrboro Chamber of Commerce president Aaron Nelson responded to my blog post about county staff reconsidering their contract with Office Depot because it has no location in Orange County. He alerted me that the chamber itself is poised to sign a contract on behalf of its members for discounted supplies from Office Depot.

"We're using that power of the collective to help our members save money," Nelson said.

Though county staff mistakenly mentioned keeping sales tax in Orange County by buying from Staples (local governments don't really pay sales tax as they get reimbursed), Nelson points out that the county share of sales tax goes to the county in which goods are delivered, regardless of their shipping origin. That means ordering online from Office Depot for delivery in Orange County keeps sales tax in Orange County.

Paper in Orange County? Yeah, we've got that.

Economic development was the key theme in the spring Democratic primary campaign for Orange County commissioner. The topic recently grabbed hold of some county staffers, who wondered why Orange government has a contract for paper supplies through Office Depot, which has no presence in Orange County.

It seems even county personnel do their shopping in Durham.

"Can we purchase paper from Staples, here in Orange County?" wrote county financial-services coordinator Deb Smith in an e-mail to purchasing-agent David Cannell. "Clarence (Grier, county finance director) would like to see the sales tax stay here in Orange County."

Unfortunately, there's no "easy button" for that. The Office Depot contract is in effect through the end of the year.

County considering 1/4-cent sales tax

The county commissioners want to hear from citizens on a possible ¼-cent sales to help fund schools and county projects.

They’ll hold a public hearing next Tuesday, June 1 at their meeting at the Department of Social Services Office, 113 Mayo Street in Hillsborough.  The meeting starts at 7:00 p.m. 

County sales tax revenues have dropped by 30 percent since fiscal year 2008.Over that time, property taxes have gone from providing about two-thirds of the county's revenues to three-quarters.

"Unless something changes, next fiscal year we'll be looking at a property tax increase," said county manager Frank Clifton.

The current sales tax rate in Orange County is 7.75 percent -- 5.75 percent for the state and 2 percent for the county. The proposed 1/4-cent tax would increase the local sales tax rate to 8 percent. Unlike a property-tax hike, it would increase the amount of taxes collected directly from tourists and other visitors who buy goods and services in Orange County but don't live here.

During the 2007 legislative session, the North Carolina General Assembly granted county boards of commissioners the authority to levy, subject to voter approval, an additional one-quarter cent county sales-and-use tax. If the commissioners decide to go forward, voters would have to approve the tax by referendum on November 2.

The ¼-cent county sales-and-use tax would generate approximately $2,300,000 for Orange County on an annual basis.  If the voters approved the referendum this fall, implementation would not start until April 1, 2011 generating approximately $575,000 for the remainder of FY 2010-11. 

No tax increase in Orange County

If elected officials follow staff recommendations, Orange County property owners won’t be paying any more in taxes this year than they did last.

Orange County manager Frank Clifton delivered his 2010-2011 budget recommendation Tuesday with no change in the county’s 85.8-cent-per-$100 tax rate nor the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools’ 18.84-cent-per-$100 rate. That follows in line with suggested budgets in Chapel Hill, Hillsborough and Carrboro, whose managers also proposed no tax increase.

The typical $300,000 home in the towns would cost $4,500 to $5,000 per year in property taxes. Taxes in the rural areas of the county would be $858 per $100,000 of assessed value.

The balanced budget will come at a cost: The county won’t be filling vacant positions, building needed facilities like a jail expansion or purchasing new equipment outside of public safety needs. Officials also plan to close the Cedar Grove branch library and cut hours at the Carrboro Cybrary.

“Every function of government has been touched,” said county finance director Clarence Grier. “This was probably one of the most difficult things that we’ve had to do.”

Though the schools will have to delay capital projects just like the rest of county government, Clifton assured that teachers’ jobs are safe.

“There would be no impact on the classrooms at this point in time,” he said.

Elected bodies like the Chapel Hill Town Council and the Orange County Board of Commissioners still need to approve the budget proposals in each of their jurisdictions. They'll be reviewing them over the next few weeks.

Library director likes West Franklin building

Orange County library director Lucinda Munger recently visited the county's Skills Development Center on West Franklin Street, a possible site for a new library branch, and liked what she saw.

"It would be a good location and size (13,000 square feet) to serve both the residents of Chapel Hill and Carrboro," Munger wrote in an e-mail to other county officials. "I could see the materials/computers from the (McDougle library) fitting in the space -- if that is what is decided, or some other collection."

Orange Commissioner Barry Jacobs, who proposed using the Skills Development Center for a library, said existing services might be able to transfer to the Hillsborough campus of Durham Community Technical College. As the county considers increasing its contribution to the Chapel Hill Public Library, Jacobs said it might not have to climb as high if some patrons are diverted to a new branch on the west side of town.

Commissioner Mike Nelson has proposed increasing the county's funding of the Chapel Hill Public Library by $10,000 this year, with approximately $200,000 in annual increases in the three years following, to bring the county's share to $900,000 by July 2013. That would come close to 40 percent of the library's budget, matching the ratio of library patrons who come from the county but outside Chapel Hill.

Is what you recycle really getting recycled?

Do you ever get that feeling of satisfaction when your trash is less than half of what you're recycling? You might want to double check everything you chucked into your recycling bin -- even though items may be recyclable doesn't mean they're getting recycled.

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