Would You Contribute To The Library?

At last night's Chapel Hill Town Council meeting a decision was put off regarding the Town Manager's recommendation to move forward and issue the voter-approved bond for the Library expansion.  There were two major issues.  First, the anticipated operating expenses for the expanded Library would result in a tax rate increase of $0.0113.  This would add about $34 to the tax bill of a homeowner with an appraised house value of $300,000.  Second, several Council members were concerned about moving forward until Orange County commits to a more equitable funding of the Library since 40% of the users and 40% of the circulation is by Orange County, non-CH residents.

Given that Orange County sales tax revenues are down significantly it is highly unlikely that OC Commissioners will increase their current Library allocation which covers about 11% of the Library's operating expenses.  When you factor in that portion of their Orange County taxes that CH residents are paying toward the Library then then non-CH residents of Orange County are contributing more like 6% of the operating costs. I would guess that a significant portion of the non-CH residents of Orange County that use the Library are from Carrboro since it would be more convenient for them to go there than to Hillsborough when the Carrboro branch of the County Library isn't adequate for their needs.

I don't think anyone is thrilled with the idea of having to 'charge' the non-CH residents to use the Library but this gross inequity in funding is putting the Council members in a difficult position.  So my question to the non-CH residents of Orange County who use (and appreciate) the CH Library is this:  Would you be willing to make a voluntary donation to help support the Library?  This would be on a yearly basis and, since it would be voluntary, could be skipped if your personal situation didn't allow for it.  If you would be willing to make such a donation how much do you think would be a fair amount for the value you receive?

Perhaps for purposes of reference you might consider how much you spend each year for things like cable TV, internet access, magazine subscriptions, or coffee at your favorite cafe. And, to put it into context, Orange County residents currently contribute to the support of the Chapel Hill Public Library at a rate of $1.65 per $100,000 of property assessment.  So if you live in Carrboro and you have a $250,000 home and you use the Library do you think you only use $4 worth of services per year?  If not, perhaps you will tell your County Commissioners to do the right thing and end this inequity.



Why not set up a contract bidding process for operating the county's libraries, open to both public and private entities?  Other cities around the country have realized both reduced costs and improved services after allowing private companies to bid for public library management contracts.  Even if we didn't want to concede overall library management, we could certainly look into outsourcing specific activities such as cataloging.And if that doesn't work, how about routing all private assets seized during Orange County drug investigations to the libraries or public schools, instead of straight back to the coffers of law enforcement agencies?  If we're going to be persecuting citizens, we might as well use the proceeds for something useful. (To answer your question though, personally I'd consider making a small donation to help keep the public libraries open as a Carrboro resident.)

of the town.  Committed to free access to knowledge for all of its citizens and I'd prefer the organization running it to have a public good motive rather than a profit motive.  And a contracted out service could have a profit motive, even without charging for library access, by trying to meet the towns standards at a bare minimum of efforts/costs.  And that librarians have job security (my hometown libriaian recognized me from when I was a little kid all the way throughout highschool), and presumably operate under a public organizations code of ethics rather than a private one is also something I like.  I've also heard tale of when gov contracts out services in general, that you have to be wary of things like the software the company uses they also own, and that governments orgs in the past have been stuck in situations where they have to renew the contract or lose the system they are working with.  And if the private org gets rid of people and brings in new ones you can lose insitutional knowledge and employee buy-in, but if you don't and you just keep running everything with the same people you may not be able to expect any different results, in which case, why did you ever switch in the first place? But allocating more resources to libraries may very well be the right direction.  Perhaps a general shift to make libraries more like cybraries  could save in the long run too.

But I think your reply betrays a misplaced faith in the aims of government officials.  Politicians don't have "a public good motive", they have a political motive.  Is political self-interest -- consolidation of power, cronyism and nepotism, obsession with election cycles -- really any more benign than economic self-interest?  Does it serve the people any more effectively?In terms of free access to knowledge, I'd have to think that any improvement in the operational effectiveness of the library system would necessarily increase the access Orange County residents have to information.  If the libraries work better, the people benefit. Also, I'm not sure there's any support for the idea that publicly employed librarians are any more secure in their jobs than privately employed ones.  Public libraries are shuttering in droves; that obviously tends to result in loss of employment.  In 1993, Dayton OH tried outsourcing their cataloging activities to a private company.  Not only did the city save $230,00 as a result -- 63% of their budget -- but they eliminated a huge cataloging backlog and didn't have to let a single employee go.  So I don't think the idea that public employees have better job security is all that valid. I  would certainly be on board with an increased emphasis on electronic storage and accessibility.  That reduces operating costs significantly and also improves access.

and not just because it is a term I've studied in Org Behavior and Psych classes, but because I've meet both government employees and elected officials who display it.Maybe I'm just too idealistic or not cynical enough, but I don't believe "consolidation of power, cronyism and nepotism, obsession with election cycles" is the driving factor behind local government.  Even if I were convinced that the elected official aspect of government, on their often meager salaries, were only in it for negative reasons, my understanding is that libraries' day to day operations are run by hired employees rather than elected ones, so they could still very well have a public service motivation as one part of doing their job.  Cognitive Evaluation Theory also warns against overly monetarily incentivizing tasks (which is usually a private sector cure-all) that are intrinisicly motivating and I've got to believe anything connected to library work and helping people learn and teaching kids to read is somewhat intrinisicly motivating.  I could also go into Maslow's Theory X vs Theory Y, but my point is that the gains of privitization may or may not be worth the losses.

I'll agree that as government officials become bigger and bigger their power-mongering becomes more and more pernicious, and that local governments are the most accountable and straightforward.  But I don't think for a minute that Mr. or Mrs. Librarian is going to work every day because of some "intrinsic" motivation to provide access to information.  He or she is going to work every day because it's a way to earn a living.  A way, in other words, to make money.I should add that I'm not saying this in an accusatory manner.  It's simple human nature.  And sure, perhaps there is some initial interest in the activities performed by librarians (as there often is in private-sector employment as well).  But take that salary away, and the employee will go too.  So let's stop pretending there is some basic difference in the motivations between public and private employees.  We're dominated by our own egos and perspectives no matter who signs our paychecks.The question, then, should be one of effectiveness and efficiency, particularly when public funds are being used.  As I said before, there is strong evidence that the public system could save significant money -- while simultaneously improving the libraries themselves -- by bidding the management contracts out to private companies.  It's certainly an option worth considering and investigating, at the very least.

... like these are the truly progressive ones, but, I fear they will fall on deaf ears on a forum such as this.I would stand first in line behind you, however, if such an idea were to be enacted into practice.  A fee-for library, with users paying for services, is indeed a first-rate response to the current circumstances. In fact, I'd expect that selling/leasing the existing assets of the CH library to a private firm could crate a significant income source to the Town, one which could offset other reductions of income. 

I wouldn't mind throwing in $30 or so per year for a library. In fact, I wouldn't mind if every line item on my taxes was a choice.I'd choose not to support the illegal wars, nuclear & coal power subsidies, Wall Street bonuses, etc. Then I could vote for lots more money for our essential local needs. Bottom line is that there is plenty of money to take care of what helps us all, but the greed of the powerful, working within a system that is tailor-made for them, denies us that opportunity.   

You'd lose the good with the bad if all taxes were elective.  What if only with those kids thought it was worthwile to pay for education in their taxes.  I think we'd be lucky to get even everyone with kids donating because everyone, given the option each individual has the natural incentive to think that "my one contribution wont make a difference."  We'd have to say goodbye to quality roads too.  Optional taxes on an individual level, however noble the intent, would mean an end to progressive taxation. Optional taxes on a larger scale, where we all vote on whether or not a tax is imposed on everyone for a specific reason or cause, would probably be a viable enforcement mechanism to overcome the tragedy of the commons, but a little more expensive in administrative costs if we're going all direct democracy on everything.  And that would work fine for some areas, but in others I'd rather experts making decisions than voters at large.

I'd be happy to pay $100 and maybe more on a voluntary basis. But I don't agree with pressuring the commissioners to provide more funding.http://chapelhillwatch.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/town-to-county-pay-up/#c...

I always feel that badgering the BOC to fund a Town need is robbing Peter to pay Paul. The library is heavily supported by all measures (circulation, funding) but perhaps we can’t do an expansion. The County is as strapped as the towns with the County doing all it can not to reduce social services, school funding and emergency services. However economical a library expansion would be now, we just can’t (shouldn’t) do it in these conditions. I am helping out my old office in Hillsborough doing property ownership transfers for Land Records. The average number of transfers by deed are about 13 a day and of those, 2 to 3 are usually foreclosures. I love the library but times are tough. It would be easy (you have to use a card to take out books) to charge a fee to those outside of Chapel Hill, but I see scores of young mothers with small children checking out stacks of books. Can they, if not town resident, still do that? Do we care? 

Many of the people who use our libraries do so because they cannot afford to buy the books themselves. If we went to fee-for-services, those of us who could afford to buy the books we want might turn away from the libraries - leaving the costs to those who can least afford it.

I completely agree with you, Molly.

Sure, if you made the fees associated with library use comparable to those associated with the purchase of new books, people will have little incentive to continue using the library system.But there's probably a point at which modest user fees are not enough to overcome the convenience, variety, and resources of an effective library system for the majority of patrons.  I'm not sure exactly where that point would be, and if it would allow for significant revenue.  Loss aversion, and its impact on plastic bag use in the DC area since the implementation of a small bag tax, shows us that people can go to great lengths to avoid even small taxes.  Of course that situation is less voluntary than a library usage fee, but it's something that needs to be considered.In the end, I'm not necessarily sure that a user-fee system or an increase in taxation is needed at all anyway.  I'd rather see us try to reduce cost, not expand revenue.

I honestly don't understand this whole situation or perhaps rather the reaction to it.  CH has been essentially giving away free services to OC non-CH residents for years and now we're asking OC non-CH residents if they'd like to start paying for the services?  Do OC non-CH residents want to start paying for services?  Of course not.  If they wanted to pay for the services then they'd have done so long ago.  Nobody wants to pay for anything except for what they give to charities, which is why taxes exist.According to the Wed CH News, OC pays 250 K to CHPL each year, which is 11% of the CHPL budget, but OC non-CH residents account for 40% of the circulation.  Some math says that that makes OC about 650 K short each year. Then there is the issue of how much of OC taxes come from CH, but whatever, the point is the same, it's a big chunk every year.  And it's been going on for years.  Add it up.  How far would all that money go towards expanding CHPL?  Would CHPL even need expanded without OC non-CH residents using it?  (Does CHPL even need expanded anyway?  I don't see why but that's a topic for a separate post.) In a perfect world, do I want OC non-CH residents have to pay for a library?  No. In a perfect world I don't want anyone to have to pay for anything.  But I don't live in a perfect world.  I live in the real world. The people that build libraries don't do it for free, the electric company doesn't provide electricity to the library for free and the people that write the books that the library loans out don't write them for free.  Unfortunately, nothing is free.  (BTW, remember that the next time somebody says the buses in CH are free.)  How can this go on year after year?  And how can our response to giving something away for free be to _request_ the recipients start paying for it?  Why don't we instead just start charging for it?  Figure out how much it is.  Estimate how much it'd be per OC non-CH resident.  Maybe adjust that number up a bit to account for the fact that some OC non-CH residents wouldn't pay, which means that OC non-CH residents that would pay for it would have to pay a bit more.  And then tell the OC commissioners, here's the deal, we're going to either start charging X per OC non-CH residents or else you can pitch in that amount instead.  Or maybe they'll pitch in some but not enough and we'll start charging OC non-CH residents some but less than we'd otherwise have to.  It's not hostility, it's just reality.  Why is this so complicated?  And how can this situation go on for so long without being remedied?

I would gladly pay for a library card--even as a CH resident--- and add to my taxes for the library. the library is the best deal I get for my property tax.  I am a regular patron and I could not support my reading habit if I had to buy the books, even if bought them from the PTA Thrift shop! In all the discussion around the library I never see any mention  about asking the Town of Carrboro to contribute.  How many of those "non-CH" users actually live in Carrboro?   Does Carrbro contribute and if so, how much? OC has a nice library.  I've used it many times.   I can understand the BOCC thinking that they have paid for a library for their citizens, because they have.   The fact that people choose to come to the CH library   is not because OC hasn't provided the service to its citizens.     It's user choice.  So perhaps you put  the cost on the person making the choice,  if you're going to attempt to recoup costs at all.    

The CHPL funding dilemma shows the problems that arise when a town takes on a county function.  The result is that the town citizens are taxed twice (once by the county and once by the town) to pay for the same service. By NC law and state-wide practice, libraries are county functions.  Years ago, way before my time on the council, the town made a decision that the county was not providing libraries of high-enough quality for the needs and desires of CH people and CH K-12 students.  So the council put a referendum on the ballot to build a town library on Franklin St. CH voters approved it and it was done.  We outgrew the library, especially its small parking lot.  In about 1990, two more referenda were put before the voters to build a new library at its current location.  One passed and one failed, and the current library was built.  We've now outgrown that, and thus face this issue again.I can understand the county commissioners point of view:  Why should they pay for something that the town volunteered to build in the first place.  If the town wants a super library, let the town pay for it.  I can also understand the town's viewpoint:  The county has not provided anywhere near enough funds for libraries in CH, and this is but one part of the classic town feeling that the county seems to forget that CH is part of the county.  Indeed CH contains about 43 pct of the county population and about the same amount of the tax base. The result is that the town annually pleads with the commissioners for more library funds, but with little success.  The only way to open the commissioners hearts and wallets is to force the issue, that by charging non-town users for this town service.  I wish it wouldn't come to that, but I see no alternative.Don't forget the K-12 students.  Because of the CHPL, the schools (meaning the county) have not had to build the greatest school libraries, thereby saving some money.

......that the Chapel Hill - Carrboro Schools represent a southern Orange belief that the County schools are not up to snuff.....so we're paying for that, as well, and butting heads with the BOCC over school budgets. We have expensive tastes and burdensome taxes (egads, I'm sounding like Ben LLoyd).

You don't sound like Ben Lloyd until you say  "We must live within our means".

You must live within your means!

So merger of both library systems sounds like a solution.

Patrick,I don't think your solution will find very much support amongst the majority of Chapel Hillians who have supported their Library over the years and watched it become a true leader in the State.  I believe that the majority are not only proud of the Chapel Hill Public Library but quite happy with most aspects of the services it provides.  What I suspect they are becoming unhappy about is the fact that they have been paying the way for thousands of non-Chapel Hill residents to use the Library and its services over the years and when their elected officials ask those non-residents (through their elected officials) to help bear some (not all) of the costs that they incur through their use of this wonderful facility their requests are met with either silence or a "build us a library closer to us and we might consider working with you".If Chapel Hill officials decide to start charging non-residents I suspect that there are going to be a large number of parents, particularly those living relatively close to the Library such as in Carrboro, who will quickly realize how much value they have been getting from their $3.60 (amount of County tax that an average Carrboro homeowner contributes to the Chapel Hill Library operations).  I wonder how much more money they will spend in gasoline to make trips over to the County library in Hillsborough?  I would like to see some of these parents weigh in on this issue since they will be the ones making the greatest sacrifices if this situation is allowed to deteriorate to what is now appearing to be an almost inevitable solution for the elected officials and taxpayers of Chapel Hill.

George - I live in the county (JPA) and would be happy to support the Chapel Hill Public Library through fair taxation. Give me a place to check on my taxes and then send me a library card. I see no reason why those who live within the city limits should support my use of the library. Nothing is free. However, it would be very difficult for children who go to school together to not be able to go to the library together, so it seems quite necessary that the library tax be added to all the county property tax bills that have an assessment for the CHCCS. 


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