Chapel Hill discusses budget in public hearing

Library hours among items under consideration
May. 20, 2013 @ 09:49 PM

A public hearing on the town’s budget for the next fiscal year came very close to becoming a discussion on restoring operating hours to the expanded library.

The council heard from several people who urged it to restore hours cut from the library’s operating schedule due to budgetary constraints.

Hours have been trimmed to 54 hours a week from the previous 68 hours a week.

“The library stands empty 14 hours a week when it used to be open,” said Evelyn Daniel, a member of the Chapel Hill Public Library Board of Trustees. “Please fund the positions necessary to return the 14 hours a week.”

Town Manager Roger Stancil has included $100,000 in his budget proposal to restore four hours, which would increase operating hours from 54 to 58 per week.

John Morris, also a member of the library’s Board Trustees, said the cut in hours hit hardest working parents and people without access to the internet.

“That’s who we’re standing up for,” Morris said. 

Many other citizens shared their concerns via email, flooding the council’s mailbox with dozens of messages over the week in support of restoring library hours.

But Councilman Matt Czajkowski noted the proposed two-cent tax increase and shared a note he received from a woman whose only income is from Social Security.

He said it is unfair to ask her to pay more when 40 percent of the people who use the library live outside of the town limits and pay no town taxes.

“We’re asking our citizens, including this lady, to pay more to subsidize the rest of them,” Czajkowski said.

Councilman Jim Ward said that, based on input from a diverse cross section of the community who support restoring library hours, he wanted to add $250,000 to restore library hours to 68 per week.

“If there are four others, that would be important news for the manager to get sooner rather than later,” Ward said.

Stancil has said he wanted to give new Library Director Susan Brown, who started work on Monday, a chance to learn the system and offer suggestions of how best to use any additional operating hours.

Stancil has proposed a $91.1 million budget for fiscal year 2013-14 that would require a two cent tax increase, the first proposed for the town in several years.

One penny of the tax increase would be earmarked for the town’s general fund, which would be funded to the tune of $54.6 million. The other penny would go to the transit fund, which would grow to $18.6 million.

An $872,000 decrease in state funding is driving the proposed penny tax increase for transit.

The town is also facing budgetary pressures as a result of having to ship the town’s solid waste to Durham, the increased cost to operate the expanded library, funding annual street-paving projects and resuming funding for retiree health liability.