City, county at odds over library funding|Bodies consider merging Brown, regional facilities

Published 11:53 pm Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Contributing Editor

People who live outside Beaufort County and use the city-owned Brown Library will pay more for library cards beginning July 1.
That decision came during the Washington City Council’s budget work session Monday.
An out-of-county resident now pays $15 a year for a library card. The proposed budget for fiscal year 2009-2010 calls for increasing that fee by $5, but Mayor Pro Tempore Doug Mercer’s suggestion to raise the fee from $15 to $25 a year received the council’s unanimous support.
“We ought to be charging more fees for nonresident participation,” Mercer said.
Then the discussion turned to a familiar one — trying to persuade Beaufort County to increase its appropriation to help operate the library.
Three years ago, the council learned that 64 percent of the library’s 12,000 patrons don’t live in the city. Over the years, council members have said that city taxpayers should not subsidize use of the library by people who do not live in the city.
The county contributes $7,800 a year to help run Brown Library. The city allocates $7,800 a year to help run the Beaufort-Hyde-Martin Regional Library, which serves three counties. Its headquarters is in Washington. It is not open nights or on weekends. Brown Library operates evenings and weekends.
The county has declined to increase its annual appropriation to Brown Library, saying Brown Library is a city department.
Councilman Archie Jennings, who has pushed the county to increase its appropriation to help run Brown Library, said the facility deserves the money to improve and expand its services. Those services, he said, help educate people and expose them to literature, the arts and cultures around the world.
“I think it needs to be Beaufort County’s legacy,” Jennings said about the library.
For that to happen, Jennings added, the city, the greater-Washington community and library patrons must find ways to generate more revenue for the library. Jennings cited the Friends of the Brown Library’s annual book sale as an example of a fundraising effort that benefits the library. More such efforts are needed, he said.
The city’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year appropriates $364,000 to run the library.
“We’ve got a $364,000 bucket to fill,” Jennings said. “We’ve got to find the money for the library. It isn’t going to find us.”
It’s a shame the library is closed on Sundays, Jennings said, citing the economy’s downturn and the resulting loss of city revenue as a reason the library has reduced its operating hours.
The city continues to explore merging the two libraries, because it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the city to financially support Brown Library at the level its needs to be supported, city officials have said.
Last year, a feasibility study exploring the merger of the two libraries offered several recommendations, but it does not indicate if Brown Library should or should not join the regional library system.
Jennings said one option is for Beaufort County to leave the BHM Library system and help support Brown Library, which would be able to better serve Beaufort County residents with the support the city and county would provide.
Let Martin and Hyde counties worry about providing library services to their residents, he said.
That scenario, though, raised questions about how it would affect funding to the two libraries by the state’s library system. Mayor Judy Meier Jennette said the state library system has indicated it does not want to change the current funding system.