The Exploratory Committee for a Potential Branch Library in Northern Dare met Friday in Southern Shores to discuss “regrouping” and “moving forward again” with its project, according to committee members, who agreed they had a lot of “momentum” last year before the coronavirus pandemic up-ended both the committee’s and Dare County’s business agendas.
Said committee member Lilias Morrison, who has been the public face and spokesperson for the library, there was a “perceived broad base of support two years ago . . . not so now.
“We’ve lost the momentum that we had,” she added.
Currently, Ms. Morrison said, the branch library, which would be centrally located in Southern Shores, but serve the Duck-Southern Shores-Kitty Hawk legislative district–District 3–does not “appear to have a majority of Dare County commissioners in favor” of it.
Commissioner Steve House, who lives in Southern Shores, represents District 3, and Commissioner Ervin Bateman, a Kitty Hawk resident, serves at-large. Districts 1 (Roanoke Island/Dare County Mainland) and 2 (Nags Head/Colington/Kill Devil Hills) each have two commissioners, and District 4, which is Hatteras Island, has one.
Early last year, after meeting with commissioners, the library committee had reason to believe that the project would be in Dare County’s fiscal year 2020-21 budget. But then the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the Dare County Board of Commissioners (DCBOC), as well as all Dare beach towns, tightened their fiscal belts.
In anticipation of a loss of revenue because of the pandemic—a loss that actually boomeranged into a banner year of unprecedented sales, occupancy, land-transfer, and other tax revenues—the DCBOC passed an FY 2020-21 General Fund budget of $107 million, with no property tax increase or reduction in services.
This June the DCBOC approved a FY 2021-22 General Fund budget well in excess of $112 million that also had no property tax increase or reduction in services.
We did not pore over the Dare County budget, which is online, item-by-item, but we did note that the allocation for the Dare County library system is about $1.1 million, less than 1 percent of the General Fund expenses.
There currently are three libraries in the system: They are located in Manteo, Kill Devil Hills, and Hatteras.
The Northern Dare library committee last year sought a commitment from DCBOC of $150,000 to $200,000 for refurbishment of a building on Juniper Trail in Southern Shores that TowneBank has agreed to rent for $1/year to house the library, and $150,000 to $200,000 per year for the next five years in operating costs.
At Friday’s meeting, Ms. Morrison spoke of the northern beaches, especially Duck and Southern Shores, as being “under-served” by Dare County’s “life services,” including recreational services.
The so-called “northern” division of the Dare County Parks & Recreation Dept. is in Kill Devil Hills. (There is a county-run dog park in Kitty Hawk, however.) The two other county Parks & Recreation divisions are the Roanoke Island/Mainland Division, which is in Manteo, and the Hatteras Island Division in Buxton.
We support a library or other educational center in Northern Dare that would serve as what committee member Loretta Michael referred to as a “vibrant meeting place and gathering place,” not just “a place to check out books.”
Committee members have a broad vision for the library: Ms. Morrison Friday touted “continuing education and the idea of lifelong learning,” while Town Councilman Jim Conners, who serves as the committee’s advisory member, spoke of research facilities and computer access for people who currently lack it.
We can envision a library/community center providing meeting space for groups; WiFi, copy, and fax services for the public; preschool and other children’s educational programs; local history displays and collections; continuing studies classes and lectures; as well as a collection of books and other reading materials.
As the towns of Duck, Southern Shores, and Kitty Hawk have grown in population, so has residents’ desire for quality-of-life amenities that are public and closer to home.
The library committee has done a lot of work in terms of assessing the public interest in a library/community center, bringing the project into focus, and promoting it at the county level, but in many respects it is starting over.
We would like to know what you think. We welcome your comments.
REMEMBER: The Southern Shores Town Council meets Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center. For a preview of the meeting, see The Beacon, 7/29/21.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 8/1/21