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Concerns Brewing Over Library Expansion Operations Budget

By Ran Northam Posted February 20, 2013 at 2:54 pm
CHAPEL HILL – When the expansion was approved for the Chapel Hill Public Library, Town officials knew that an additional $700,000 was needed for operating expenses. But the question now is when to complete the increase in funding to the library.

“We determined that it was able to support a maximum of 54 hours per week with the existing staff,” interim library director Mark Bayles says.

Those 54 hours compares to the 68 hours per week the library operates on currently.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says half of the increase has already been applied to the budget.

“Last year we went ahead and budgeted for an additional $350,000, increased the operating expenses by that much,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says. “And today the Council just has to answer the question: how are we going to achieve the remainder of there? Where is it going to come from, and when is it going to arrive?”

Additionally, he says the library isn’t the sole project the Council has to discuss for the upcoming fiscal year.

“(We have) some personnel restructuring; we have the solid waste issue with the landfill closing; we have the opening of the library,” Mayor Kleinschmidt says. “Those are just three big ticket items that we need to figure out how we’re going to provide for.”

The main concentration of the extra funds would be the addition of staff members to cover the 35,000 square feet of added space, which is more than double the previous structure. Bayles says the library administration has to wait for the budgeting plan before it can hire the additional staff.

“I was approximately, I think, five full-time equivalents; although, it wasn’t simply five people,” Bayles says. “It was a variety of additions to existing staff hours, temporary employees, and at least two new positions—one of which wasn’t full time.”

The 2012-2013 fiscal year ends June 30, but the new library is schedule to open sometime in April. The concern is that if new staff is hired and additional budgeting is not in place, the library would not have the resources to pay the additional staff.

A petition was started by a Chapel Hill resident that stated the Town Council’s budget for 2013-14 would “reduce the hours per week by 20%, from 68 to 54 (for the fewest hours of any public library in the region), cut Saturday hours by more than half, result in longer lines and less access to staff, and cut services and programs that benefit people of all ages and levels of income and education.”

Town Council Member Sally Greene says with the many different topics that need attention, and the different opinions Council members may hold, hashing out those items could be a lengthy process.

“My feeling is that the council would be delighted to be able to fund everything and every level we can, but we have a realistic understanding that we don’t have enough dollars to go around,” Greene says. “We’re going to be faced with very painful conversations about how to spread that money.”

And, she says there’s already been some conversation about how the town can at least get the library to that July 1 mark, but more work to be done.

“My understanding is that the council, before I got back on it in January, did recommend a library proposal that would in fact lessen the number of hours of operation a week from 68 to 54,” Greene says. “So that’s sort of where we’re going to be starting from. I would like to see it higher, but I just don’t know how that conversation’s going to go given all the priorities that we have to negotiate.”

The conversation is far from over. In fact, it’s in its beginning stages. The Chapel Hill Town Council is holding a budget work session on March 6, however the library’s operating budget is not on the agenda at this time.

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