The time of county residents not paying their fair share to use the Chapel Hill Public Library should end.
Covering the cost of the library should be more equitably shared — either through a user fee for non-Chapel Hill residents, or through a greater contribution from county government.
Right now, Chapel Hill residents pay a tax to fund the library, but everyone in Orange County is allowed to use it for free.
The county supplies roughly 11 percent of the library’s budget — even though 40 percent of the library’s patrons live outside Chapel Hill. This funding figure has been the same for more than 15 years, even as the library’s budget has more than doubled.
It’s not that county government has simply overlooked the fact that the library’s budget inflated more than 100 percent while its subsidy has not.
The library is extremely popular. It has the highest per capita circulation in the state. There is no reason why county government should have overlooked it.
In fact, the actions of the county are likely feeding into the extremely high demand for using the library. And Chapel Hill residents effectively subsidize them.
Statutory limitations prevent Chapel Hill from accepting county funds and levying a fee on county residents.
So the first step is for town staff to research different funding scenarios consistent with the petition set forth by Chapel Hill Town Council members Laurin Easthom and Gene Pease at the Feb. 8 meeting. One of the proposed ideas is to implement a direct fee on non-Chapel Hill users and to forgo the county’s contribution.
The town is already committed in principle to spend $16 million on a library, part of which would be funded through property tax increases.
Increased contributions from the county would only be fair in light of the amount of out-of-town demand on the library.
Both city and county government should work together to fairly share the costs of running this valuable resource.
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