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.
Czajkowski pushed for enacting the fee this fall when the library moves into a temporary facility while contractors expand the current library off Estes Drive to twice its size. He said the temporarily cramped quarters provide the perfect opportunity to discourage some out-of-town users and to adapt committed patrons to the fee system.
“Until the county commissioners and, for that matter, the Carrboro mayor and Board of Aldermen hear violent shrieking form their constituents … the political pressure is just not there,” said Czajkowski.
“I’m willing to squeeze whatever it takes to make them scream at the end of this fiscal year,” said Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who recently joined county board chairwoman Valerie Foushee on a committee of council members and commissioners working on a fiscal-equity agreement. “Why [make them scream] prior to the beginning of what really has become a good faith effort? … I think we need to give this a really good shot.”
Councilman Gene Pease, who sits on the committee, agreed.
“We’ve never had substantial conversations with commissioners until we put our foot down,” he said. “We ought to give them a chance and see what they come up with.”
The council agreed, at Easthom’s insistence, to ask town staff to propose potential fee structures the council could vote on in December or January if the two sides can’t agree on a new funding formula by then.
“I want to be prepared to say then that we will begin charging non-Chapel Hill residents,” she said.