Town Council approves $50.5 million budget

Amidst discussion of a potential library card fee and an unexpected tipping fee increase, the Chapel Hill Town Council passed a $50.5 million budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year Monday night.

Town Manager Roger Stancil said the budget contains permissions for the council to impose a $60 library card fee on residents who live in Orange County and use the Chapel Hill Public Library but reside outside town lines.

If the council approves this option, the library will no longer receive funding from the Orange County Board of Commissioners, creating a $249,000 loss for library funding.

Facing this loss, the Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation has offered the council a $200,000 grant if the fee is approved.

Council member Penny Rich brought up the concerns of a resident who could not attend Monday night’s meeting by saying that there could be library users who cannot afford the fee or who cannot provide the proper resident identification.

“I just had my kids renew their library cards, and all they had to do was say I was their mom,” she said. “But that’s not going to work for everybody — I can’t be everybody’s mom.”

In comparison to prices the town charges for swimming pool passes, Council member Matt Czajkowski suggested the possibility of charging those who live outside the county and those who live inside the county different fees for using the library.

“I would submit that there has been no thought to the $60 aside from that it is what we’ve been charging forever,” he said.

Council member Sally Greene said she isn’t sure that approving such a fee is the best decision at the moment.

“To have reduced services with a smaller library to me doesn’t make sense,” she said. “It makes more sense if we wait until the library is reopened.”

The council, which also approved a budget of $16.8 million for the library expansion Monday night, has asked the manager to further look into the financial implications of the situation and will revisit the discussion June 27.

Echoing the sentiment of a financially bleak period, the council also unanimously approved an exterior advertising program for the Chapel Hill Transit system.

Town Transit Director Steve Spade said the program has the potential to bring in more than $400,000 once it is fully developed.

“We believe that transit advertising is an excellent way for us to diversify our tax revenues,” he said. “Every dollar we collect in transit advertising is a dollar we don’t have to collect in property taxes.”

To wrap an entire bus, advertisers will pay $1,500 per month with a minimum contract of one year. Advertisements for alcohol and tobacco will not be permitted.

Council member Laurin Easthom said she supported the program for financial reasons but isn’t fond of the concept, and Rich agreed.

“Financially, we need to do it,” Rich said. “But I don’t think it necessarily beautifies buses.”

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