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Library Task Force Recommends Increase Of At Least $1.8 Million

The task force that's been meeting the last several months to look at options for the Mecklenburg County library system has settled on what it believes would be an appropriate amount of funding next year. The group recommends an increase of at least $1.8 million. The task force says an increase of about $2 million could allow the library system to operate its regional branches six days a week. Currently they're only open four. And keep service at the smaller branches as it is now. Still the library task force says it's basing its recommendation for an increase of between $1.8 and $2.5 million on something else. The group looked at library systems in 13 communities across the country with similar populations. This year the amount Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library spends per capita is about $26. That's about $2 below the average spending of those areas. The task force says bringing the library system up to average would take another $1.8 million. Task force chairman Jim Woodward acknowledges the county is still in a rough spot. "They want to fund the library at the appropriate level given the fiscal constraints they face," says Woodward. "What this does is provide a good argument as to why there should be some increase in the funding and the impact of the increase would quite frankly let us broaden the service we're providing." If the library doesn't get more money from the county this year, the task force recommends expanding service at the system's regional libraries and closing many of its smaller branches. The task force does not recommend an outright designated tax for the library. However, it suggests the county take a different look at budgeting. The group wants to see the county put its discretionary spending (areas like libraries, parks, recreation) into a separate fund. Woodward says once the county is in better shape, the county commission could ask taxpayers to designate a tax for this group of services. One of the ideas that came up last year was making the library system a department of the county. The task force recommends the library stay separate. However, Woodward says the county and library must work together better. "Over some period of time this lack of communication, interaction, interface, good relation, call it what you want to, is unacceptable. And so it's got to be fixed." The task force will present its final recommendations to the library board and county commission on March 21st.