As the Havelock Board of Commissioners and city staff worked on the 2014-15 budget, the numbers simply didn’t add up.
They were looking at having to raise property taxes. They were looking at having to make cuts. One of those cuts was the Havelock-Craven County Public Library.
For years, city leaders have complained about what they have said is an inequity in funding. The city traditionally provided about 35 percent of the library’s operational budget, with Craven County providing about 65 percent. That 35 percent is a far higher percentage than cities such as New Bern, Cove City and Vanceboro have traditionally contributed to libraries in their cities.
City leaders have argued that the library belongs to the county and should be paid for through county taxes, and since city residents also pay county taxes, Havelock residents are in essence being asked to pay twice for the library.
It’s a logical argument, and one the city has used in other funding debates with the county, such as over ambulance service as well as parks and recreation.
But logic can be thrown out of the window as it relates to a public library. Few people can argue that a library doesn’t serve citizens. The Havelock library promotes literacy through its youth programs. It offers opportunities for high school and college students to do research for their school papers and projects. It allows Internet access for residents doing everything from genealogy to job searches.
But still, many residents don’t have a need to use the library and some may wonder why they have to pay for something they don’t use.
Well, the truth of the matter is that in government taxpayers often pay for things they don’t use or will never use. In the strictest sense, when our forefathers began forming this nation, they never envisioned tax money being used to pay for a library. Of course, they never envisioned tax money being used to pay for health care or unemployment or food stamps either.
No doubt, this was a difficult budget year for the city, which hasn’t seen any sort of growth in a few years, and in fact, may face a future with declining growth as federal cuts impact Cherry Point. With that type of uncertainty, as well as the anticipated loss of about $100,000 from state action that removes business license fees, city leaders decided not to provide $47,000 that the library had requested to fill out its budget. That leaves the library scrambling as to how it will make ends meet. Personnel cuts as well as reductions in operational hours are the likely results.
Funding the library would have meant a tax increase of six-tenths of a penny on property owners — not much in the grand scheme of things, but city leaders wanted to make a point. In these hard and uncertain economic times, every penny — even fractions of a penny — is important to residents. And the city has simply grown tired of paying for what it feels are county services.
The argument between the city and county over funding shows no signs of ending soon. The two sides can’t iron out their differences. Even a behind-closed-doors meeting between county and city leaders last year did not produce any tangible results.
Simply put, in the argument over funding, city leaders drew their line in the sand, and that line runs right in front of the Havelock-Craven County Public Library.