We don’t have a crystal ball, and even if we did, we’re not sure that we would believe it anyway, but we’re not sure a quick solution to the funding issues involving the Havelock-Craven County Public Library is on the horizon.
We could be wrong, but Havelock and Craven County commissioners have approved their respective budgets for 2014-15, and the $27,503 that library officials say is needed to provide the same services it did a year ago is not likely to appear out of thin air from either board.
The issue goes beyond providing a few extra dollars for the library. It’s part of a deeper dispute between Havelock and Craven County officials that has manifested itself in the library funding issue. Havelock officials have complained for years that the county fails to adequately fund city services that are used by both county and city residents. The two sides have argued over recreation funding, money for ambulance services and the library.
On top of that, city leaders have complained about what they have said is an inequity in library 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 towns.
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.
No matter the debate, the library is still short about $27,500, the result of which means fewer books, magazines and newspapers in the library, and a reduction in operating hours.
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.
Finding a solution to fund such things would seem like a no-brainer.
“I think it’s important that people understand that where libraries thrive, communities thrive,” Luann Rottmann, corresponding secretary for the Friends of the Havelock-Craven County Public Library, told us. “That’s part of the basis of a strong community.”
Rottmann said the library is an important part of the lives of many people, many of whom don’t have the services at their homes that the library provides. She cites as examples those who use the library for Internet access to look for jobs and to fill out online applications, and those who need access to fax machines.
While those services are important, should they be free to those who use them?
While charging people who use the Internet and fax machines at the library won’t make up for a $27,503 shortfall in the budget, it is one possible solution that could help in the library system’s funding formula. After all, the use of a fax machine hardly seems like an essential role for the library to fill.
Charging user fees would also show city and county leaders that library officials and users are willing to do their part to keep the facility as a vital part of the community.
We understand the crucial role that libraries do play in the community. As an example, the Havelock library is home to a collection of children’s teaching and learning tools through the Smart Start program. These items can be a tremendous help to young parents who need help with the educational development of their children. We believe no one can argue against the education of children, and in that, libraries can and do play an important role.
But we’re not sure that the library is the place for residents to hop online just to see what’s on sale at Sears this week — or at least to do it for free on the taxpayers’ dimes.
Even if such user fees were to be implemented, the underlying fight between the city and county over funding would remain. User fees would not be a long-term solution to the funding issues at hand. The only real solution is for Havelock and county officials to work out a compromise that benefits the taxpayers of the city and county equally.
We believe the library has an essential role for Havelock and eastern Craven County residents. We would not like to see that role diminished. It’s up to city, county and library officials to make sure that doesn’t happen. They need to put aside their philosophical differences to come together for a solution. When that solution is found, residents, taxpayers, library users and the community at large will be the beneficiaries.