Negotiations between Mecklenburg County towns and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library continued Tuesday in downtown Charlotte at the law offices of Robinson, Bradshaw and Hinson. Library officials have asked towns—specifically Mint Hill, Matthews, Davidson and Cornelius—to pitch in a total of $700,000 to sustain the library system for the next fiscal year. Mint Hill is the only town that is on board with donating the money—as long as Mint Hill’s library stays open—but Mayor Ted Biggers said it would be difficult for the town to give money if it meant other towns aren’t paying their fair share.
Last Friday, Biggers attended the first of the formal negotiations. Towns, including Charlotte, were represented by at least mayors and town staff, while library board members and staff including Director Charles Brown represented the library. County officials included Board of Commissioner Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts.
Towns don’t think they can sell the library plan to their boards without tweaking it considerably. The towns want to help, but the road ahead could be tricky.
“We have to think outside the box,” Davidson Mayor John Woods said. “Then I believe the towns could cobble together a plan that would be acceptable.”
Huntersville and Pineville have not taken part in negotiations with the library, assuming that because libraries weren’t closing in their towns, they shouldn’t have to help. Every representative from Mint Hill, Matthews, Cornelius and Davidson said the other towns’ reluctance to help is a sticking point in giving money to the system.
“It would be nice for a token gift from them,” Biggers said last week.
Library officials and the mayors of Cornelius and Davidson will lobby Huntersville in the next two days to drum up support. Town Manager Brian Welch told library officials Mint Hill would lobby Pineville to offer more than just moral support to the library system.
The Mayor of Matthews, Jim Taylor, told library officials Tuesday that the town’s board will be less likely to give to the library because of Huntersville and Pineville’s reticence to help.
“It’s not looking good,” he said.
By Thursday, library officials hope to have a new plan created to get all the towns to the table. Charlotte, it was reminded at the meeting, will not give if the towns don’t pitch in.
A staff person from Huntersville who was at the meeting said his board is prepared to vote this Monday on helping the library.
Little library that could
Davidson Mayor John Woods is the person responsible for calling towns and library officials to the negotiating table. Of the four towns at the table, it was the only one that would have difficulty giving it’s $175,000. Woods pushed library officials aggressively to allow it to use a heavy rotation of volunteers to offset labor costs, and therefore the amount of money they should give. Woods wanted to implement this as soon as his town could, at which point, Library Board Vice Chairman Robert Sink shot back.
“I’ve watched Brown and his staff bust their tails,” he said. “To ask them to come up with a support program (for volunteers) is not fair.”
Woods is hoping citizens will come forward to donate not only their time at the library as volunteers, but financially. However, Woods said his town can’t begin drumming up support if they don’t know what they are supporting. The library may stay open, but how many volunteers will they need and how many hours will they be open?
“(The current plan) darkens the center of our town for four days,” Woods said. “The library is important to us and reducing hours is not acceptable,”
Woods said his town will be the test case to see if it can organize a volunteer base in the next few weeks.
And Mint Hill?
Mayor Ted Biggers told the Mint Hill Board of Commissioners Thursday that all options for the town, including running the library itself, are still on the table. However, the town is in a good position financially to give the full $175,000 to the library as long as the Mint Hill library stays open. Biggers also said whatever Mint Hill gives will have to be equitable to what the other towns are giving, either in cash, or in-kind.
The newest plan created by the library calls for the Mint Hill library to be open Monday and Wednesday from 10 am to 7 pm and 9 am to 5 pm on Saturday. There would also be staff reductions. Brown said some notices are ready to be sent this week.
Welch told Brown that the town would be more likely to give money if the library could at least stay open for four days a week. Brown said they could have a revised schedule in 48 hours, or by the time of the next meeting.
Library, town and county officials will meet again today to create a plan that is a stable negotiating platform so that the most equitable decision can be made. However, County Commissioner Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts intimated that if the two sides cannot get together, the county will do what is in the best interest of the entire county, which could mean library closings. Taylor of Matthews asked the library if they were ready for that solution and Sink said they already have a plan for closing libraries in place. If towns and the library cannot come up with a suitable plan at the next meeting today, then libraries could see severely reduced hours at best, and closings at worse.