The Chapel Hill Town Council is considering a penny tax increase to fund the Chapel Hill Public Library expansion, in light of widespread public outcry about a previous proposal to reduce the library’s hours.
Facing a budget shortfall for the library, the council proposed reducing hours earlier this month. It will consider the tax increase to keep the library fully functioning at its new location.
Town Council approved $16.8 million for the library expansion.
The library moved to its temporary location in University Mall.
Council proposed the reduction in hours of operation for library
In an email to the town council, Town Manager Roger Stancil said the proposed increase would generate about $728,000 to fund the library.
The $16.23 million expansion began in fall 2011 and will add 35,500 square feet to the library’s 100 Library Drive location — more than doubling its size.
But the opening of the new library, scheduled for April, will represent a $134,000 increase in the cost of building operations for the town — making it difficult to fund the hiring of additional staff.
According to the current plan, the newly renovated library would operate 54 hours per week — a 14-hour reduction from its current operations in its temporary University Mall location.
Melissa Cain, executive director of the Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation, said the problem lies in having the same level of access and service with less money.
Cain said library usage is expected to increase by at least 20 percent in the renovated building.
“We don’t want to have our new library open in a compromised position,” she said.
Interim Library Director Mark Bayles said he thinks the solution to the library’s budget shortfall will come from conversations between the council and the community.
Bayles said the library serves about 1,200 people a day, and some of those visitors might have to wait in long lines if the hours are reduced.
He said library officials are planning to strategically reduce hours from the times when the library sees the least amount of visitors.
Like many Chapel Hill residents, Stuart West is against the proposal to reduce hours at the Chapel Hill Public Library.
The library regular said he thinks it’s “ridiculous” for the council to have spent millions on renovations to the facility and then reduce its hours.
“I think any solution would be a good solution,” he said.
Town Councilman Jim Ward said that while people might initially be against a tax increase, he thinks residents will support the increase if it is presented correctly.
“I think if it is articulated as to why that decision is being made that the majority of taxpayers can understand,” he said.
Ward said he will consider the increase if it means preserving the library as a resource for the community.
“I’m prepared to find the money to keep the hours we’re currently open,” he said. “It’s a priority.”
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