Weddington wants in, while Waxhaw backs out
And then there was one.
A week of town meetings saw Waxhaw back out of the library discussion, while Weddington’s town council moved forward. While past surveys of Union County residents indicate a clear need for a library expansion, the question of where it should be located is anything but, according to Union County Library Director Marty Smith.
As federal, state and local budgets tighten up, questions about the location of a future library or libraries become harder to answer. With a lack of funding at the county level, towns hope they can negotiate, offering some funds of their own for a guarantee the building will be in their corporate limits.
The town councils for Waxhaw and Weddington have primarily led the fight over the last 10 years, each one vying for attention from the “powers that be,” in this case the Library Board of Trustees and the Union County Commissioners, to hear their cases for how their town could best provide library services to county residents.
After their individual town meetings Oct. 11 and 12, only Weddington was left standing.
Speeding up to slow down
By a 3-2 vote during their Tuesday, Oct. 12, meeting, with members Erin Kirkpatrick and Brett Diller in opposition, Waxhaw’s town council tabled the library debate until April 2011.
The motion, put forth by Martin Lane, specifically referenced the library proposal being discussed Tuesday night.
“I think we need to stay out of it,” commissioner Martin Lane said of the library debate. “[The county] expects us to pay the bill. Is the county going to turn to us when they need a jail? When they need a firehouse?”
In September, board members agreed to offer the county $100,000 a year for 10 years in order to cover operating expenses in a proposed 10,000 square foot Waxhaw library, to be placed within a half-mile radius of the downtown area. Additionally, the town would consider covering some services, such as mowing the grass to keep up the facility.
In turn, Waxhaw would ask the county to give them a designated seat on the Library Board of Trustees, as well as make it clear the contribution could be cut down if the county were to ever cut staff or hours at the proposed facility.
“I struggled with this decision,” Commissioner Brian Haug said. “I don’t want to lose the library [but] the community’s been split.”
Haug questioned what actual economic impact the current library had on the downtown area in regards to generating foot traffic, saying he’d never seen a study detailing those facts. While he believed the $100,000 could be absorbed by the town budget without a tax hike, Haug wondered if it was necessary to include things like possible capital funding and the half-mile radius in what would be the town’s opening for negotiations.
Commissioners spent part of the meeting discussing different site options and the size of a potential library, even though both decisions are actually in the hands of county commissioners. Towns can make a recommendation, but a final decision on location comes from the county board.
By including a stipulation of locating it within a half-mile of downtown, Waxhaw commissioners hoped to have a voice in the project’s final destination.
The problem for some residents and commissioners comes from the fact Waxhaw would take out a loan to provide that $100,000 a year funding. Also, people question why the town offered to pay for what they believe is a county service, when there isn’t even a site plan in place.
“It’s not something we can directly afford,” Haug said. “We don’t bleed money [and] we’ve got our own obligations.”
Haug proposed a compromise, which also was shot down by the majority 3-2, with Lane, Kirkpatrick and Diller opposing. The motion called for opening negotiations with the county, but removing several parts of the Waxhaw proposal from the table, such as the half-mile radius and the possibility of Waxhaw further helping out with funding, beyond the $100,000 per year.
“What we have here in operational expenses has been offered before,” Kirkpatrick said, arguing the combination in Waxhaw’s proposal, including possible capital funding, was what made it unique. “You’re talking about taking us to our offer [from] 10 years ago.”
The problem, Kirkpatrick said, was the county rejected that offer 10 years ago and she feared Waxhaw would be setting itself up for failure again.
Getting in on the action
Meanwhile, the Weddington Town Council moved unanimously Monday, Oct. 11, for a series of three meetings to address the topic. The first will be a closed session meeting on Friday, Oct. 15, at 3 p.m. to discuss a potential library proposal. The second will take place Tuesday, Oct. 19, when the council will engage in a work session with the library board during its regular 5:30 p.m. meeting time at the Monroe County Library. A third special open meeting will follow at 7 p.m. at the Monroe County Library, during which time the council will discuss any meeting results.
Some background from the “Battle of the Libraries”
Before the recession, Smith explained, the Board of Trustees and County Commissioners weighed the pros and cons of erecting a “super regional library” at a strategically located site, versus building two distinct libraries. Under a two library system, one would theoretically be built in Waxhaw and the other elsewhere in western Union County. A so-called “Waxhaw Proposal” came about in recognition of the fact that Waxhaw’s current library was bursting at the seams and needed upgrades, and therefore should be given first priority under a two library proposal.
While a super library was cheaper and saved the county anywhere from $700,000 to $1 million, two libraries could theoretically meet the needs of the most residents.
A new reality
Weddington Mayor Nancy Anderson admitted to a natural discomfort that occurs from towns being in competition with their neighbors. Furthermore, all Union County towns have had to adjust to the new reality of paying for services funded in the past by the county.
Town Council District I member Werner Thomisser agreed, summarizing the new recession-influenced state of affairs. When it comes to paying for projects, “federal pushes to the states, the states push to the counties, and the counties push it down to the municipalities,” he said. “That’s the reality.”
Much has changed from an economic perspective since 2008, when the Board of Trustees and the County Commissioners first made recommendations about a potential western Union County library expansion. Regardless of the decision, actual construction on the library isn’t in the county’s capital plan until 2012. While the future of the library remains uncertain and may not come to fruition for another five years, Smith said that selecting a property site will ensure the county is prepared regardless of the outcome.