published Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Hamilton County residents might have to pay to use library

by Cliff Hightower
Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press 
Kara Grooms, left, sits next to Patrick Hook as she uses one of the public computers at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Public Library to help in her job search.
Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press Kara Grooms, left, sits next to Patrick Hook as she uses one of the public computers at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Public Library to help in her job search.

If Chattanooga takes over full funding of the public library system, library officials say people who live outside the city probably will start paying a fee to check out books or movies or use the computers.

“They are going to charge county residents something,” said Eva Johnston, interim director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library.

Hamilton County Commission Chairman Larry Henry, who first heard about the proposal last week, said that won’t sit well.

“I don’t think they are going to be happy about that,” he said. “I think there will be some resistance.”

Mayor Ron Littlefield’s spokesman, Richard Beeland, said it’s only fair for county residents to pay a fee because they won’t be supporting the library directly.

“You can’t go to Atlanta and check out a book,” he said. “You can’t go to Signal [Mountain Public Library] and check out a book.”

The change arises with the expiration of the 45-year-old sales tax agreement between Chattanooga and Hamilton County. The agreement gave sales tax collected in the city to Hamilton County, which used it to help support social service agencies that the city also funded.

Littlefield has said the city would take over funding the downtown and Northgate library branches. He said the city also will fund the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, but he wants the county to fund the countywide health department.

The mayor’s proposed budget for the 2012 fiscal year that begins July 1 includes $5.7 million for the library, an increase of about $100,000 over this fiscal year’s $5.6 million. The city is hoping Collegedale will take over the library branch in that city.

The budget still awaits City Council approval, but city and library administrators say negotiations are under way for changes within the library system.

Johnston said she doesn’t know what the fee will be for nonresidents. She said people who live outside Hamilton County can join the library for $10 a year or $25 for three years.

“I don’t know what they want to charge,” she said.

Besides the fee for nonresidents, Chattanooga officials are considering dissolving the board whose members are appointed by the city and county and replacing it with a board of city appointees, Johnston said.

“After next month, I don’t know if we’re even going to have county board members on there,” she said.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger said charging county residents a fee would be the city’s decision, but dissolving the library board as the city is considering could be more complicated.

“I’d have to go back and look at the agreements, “ he said. “There’s a number of legal issues.”

County Attorney Rheubin Taylor declined to comment Friday, saying he has not studied the issue. He expects Coppinger or the County Commission to ask him to study it further.

“I’ll look at it at that time,” he said.

City Attorney Mike McMahan said it’s a complex issue because the city and county jointly own the property housing the downtown library and the Northgate branch.

“You can’t really end the partnership because it’s already been created,” he said.

Christy Viens, a county resident who lives off Thrasher Pike, came out of the Northgate library branch Wednesday with a stack of books in her hands. She said she goes to the branch once a week with her children, works downtown and frequents the downtown library as well.

She said she wouldn’t like paying a fee.

“If I have to pay a fee, I would,” she said. “The public library should be available to everybody.”

But a Chattanooga resident also visiting the Northgate branch doesn’t believe county residents should pay a fee for the service.

Elizabeth Abernathy, a student at Chattanooga State Community College, noted that the county is picking up the tab on the health department and not asking city residents to pay an extra fee for its services. The city should return the favor on libraries, she said.

“If the county is picking up on other areas, it kind of weighs itself out,” she said.

Contact Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfree or 423-757-6480. Follow him on Twitter at

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dave said...

It is funny that the library which started out in The University of Chattanooga (now UTC) and was run by the county...has been somehow shifted over to the city who wants to Charge the same folks who have been paying it's way to use it. Lets face it folks we have a TAX and SPEND MAYOR in Chattanooga, I SAY WE ARE: TAXED ENOUGH ALREADY!!!!

May 31, 2011 at 12:16 a.m.
joeguy said...

This [tax agreement/divorce] is just laughable. I suppose that we county residents should request that any assets that were purchased under the now dissolved joint agreement and built from joint funding be divided equally. Then the city can charge us for what they bought and we can use the resources that we funneled into the facility to build our own. LOL.

What's next on the agenda of Mayor Littlefield to increase the tension and animosity between the two governments and residents?

What amazes me is that nobody in the media or government of the city has come forward to describe the plans for the tax revenue that they are collecting but not sharing with the county since the agreement has dissolved. Littlefield and the Council members DID NOT lower your taxes. The agreement that dissolved was purely sales tax based. Littlefield and the Council members only limited the quality of government cooperation and are endagering community health. They are still collecting the sales tax. Someone should put that question to the Mayor and stay vigilant on watching where and how those moneys are spent.

May 31, 2011 at 2:25 a.m.
bpqd said...

The Mayor's statement about checking out books at other libraries is factually incorrect. Maybe it's been several decades since he's actually checked out a book.

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Library is the only library I have ever heard of which actually charges patrons directly for inter-library loans. Those services are normally offered free to patrons of lending libraries.

The cost of administrating the billing of a patron for shipping a book normally exceeds the cost of shipping.

The Mayor's proposed payment plan is probably actually more expensive than the current policy. I say this by looking at the current, ineffective, policy he already has in place for billing people and increasing the Library's operating costs by doing so.

Maybe he could listen to the librarians for a change. I suspect they're familiar with how to operate their facilities.

They don't hand out doctorates in Library Science just because of the Dewey Decimal system. It might be because the massive and complex information networks that each library is has its own need for thought and understanding. Or, we could try to wreck the library out of ignorance, which seems to be the policy under Mayor Littlefield.

Mayor Littlefield, Wrecker of Libraries. What a title.

You can, in fact, check out books from other libraries using inter-library loans. Also, it is very easy to obtain a library card for a public library system serving a region in which you do not live.

I carry three library cards myself.

All three of those library systems serve the public in this area.

In the past year, I have used services from over 20 libraries throughout Tennessee. I haven't seen the Mayor at any of those. Maybe he's been hanging out near the books on Reganomics in the fiction section.

Notice also that these loan services do not count the many low-cost electronic services that library networks provide. Those networks are so intensive and frequently used that it is common for one network, internally operated within the state, to span five and six libraries spread out over several counties. The Linebaugh Library system is an example of one of these.

Given these glaring errors in his statements on how libraries work, we can only encourage Mayor Littlefield to do some basic research to correct his fact gathering by doing some.

Check out a book sometime, Mister Mayor. Reading does a brain some good.

May 31, 2011 at 5:56 a.m.
tamunn said...

If you own property in the City, you pay County taxes, but if you own property in the County your property isn't necessarily in the City and if you don't own property inside the City limits you don’t pay City taxes… DUH!!!… Why do you think you're entitled to something you aren't paying for?????????

May 31, 2011 at 9:19 a.m.
midnitewatchman said...

You pay city taxes if you live in the city for the services the city provides. you pay county taxes even if you live in the city for the services the county has to provide for everyone in the county (this includes city residents). Do you think it would be fair for county residents to be taxed higher to pay for the schools the city residents children go to? Do you think its fair for the county residents to be taxed higher to pay for judges that hear city and county cases? City tax rates are higher than county tax rates. This is not because of the needs of the city, it is because of the needs and wants of the city!

May 31, 2011 at 10:08 a.m.
bpqd said...

"The library mafia." Listen to yourself. Read your comments. We don't have that kind of nonsense confused with rational and effective public policy.

It's clear that Mayor Littlefield is adopting a pattern of behavior used by Vice President Emeritus Dick Cheney: when it's obvious that you won't be re-elected, then trash the place.

It's clear: renewing the tax agreement between the city and the county is the right and rational thing to do. Meanwhile, Metro wannabe powerbrokers will turn every valued institution into a pawn shop discount ticket in order to degrade things to the point that they can look like heroes when they finally erode everyone's will into giving them their way.

Tax Mayor Littlefield's business cronies. A $100K per year country club tax ought to squelch this kind of whining. It'll at least keep the Children's section of the library open.

Renew the existing tax agreements, and slap Republican sycophants with a punitive tax on the rich to pay for their insolence.

Let's remind them of the importance of personal interest in finance and government. $100K per year county club membership flat tax. 25% increase in commercial real estate taxes beyond one transaction per year. $50K per year flat tax increase on any and all parking lot fee related incomes. Let us reintroduce them to what we have learned about the words, "Service Fee."

That ought to make up for Mayor Littlefield's fake claims of financial shortfall.

May 31, 2011 at 12:21 p.m.

Littlefield is such a horses rear.

May 31, 2011 at 5:02 p.m.
sage1 said...

From the small showing of the Littlefield recall petitions resulting in the outcome , he'll get re-elected. Then, it's Off To The Races to a Metro Chattanooga

May 31, 2011 at 5:42 p.m.
joe_six_pack said...

Littlefield can not be re-elected because he can not run again.

May 31, 2011 at 7:02 p.m.
MasterChefLen said...

It is clear that Mayor Littlefield and his "rubberstamp city council" are trying to force the Metro government issue by taking actions to cut county funding and exclude (or disenfranchise) the county citizens. It is true that Littlefield is term limited on Chattanooga Mayor, however if he and his cronies (the Chattanooga City Council) can force Metro government, he would be free to run for mayor of that entitiy. Ron Littlefield has no future in public office of any sort anywhere near Chattanooga, TN when his term ends. He has upset so many people with his arrogance and incompetence for that matter. Hopefully, the citizens of Chattanooga, TN will vote out the entire city council as they are just as much to blame for supporting the mayor's stupid initiatives.

May 31, 2011 at 7:58 p.m.

Libertarians4Freedom said...

"Besides, public libraries attract scum like those homeless people seeking shelter or those perverts that feel the need to look at porn in a public place."

Speaks volumes about your value system. You have some serious insecurity issues.

May 31, 2011 at 8:28 p.m.
HamCoResident said...

This is a confiscation of property that belongs to all the citizens of the county. The city has no right to shut the rural residents of Hamilton out of their own library, not unless they purchase the library for the county. If they want to make it a library for city residents only, they need to pay us for it. Some county residents need to get together and file a lawsuit. I would rather see the library close its doors than see Hitlerfield confiscate the county's property.

May 31, 2011 at 8:37 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

The county is going to make the lost money up somehow. My property value just increased 30% this month...and the property tax increase will follow in October. I must admit that I was surprised since I thought that the real estate market was dropping off but then I remembered the Lost Sales Tax Revenue and the increase was...magically...explained!

May 31, 2011 at 9:49 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

Here's the City's justification for keeping the sales tax...from their website

What justification is there for allowing a city to retain the local sales tax portion collected within its legal borders? What was original intent?

Local sales tax is a minimal reimbursement for services rendered to visitors and patrons who have opportunity to use city services while doing business or enjoying the amenities a City provides in order to keep a commercial economy viable. While it is similar to a “fee for service,” it does not cover the cost of providing 24 hour emergency services (fire and police) in commercial areas. Local sales tax does not come close to funding the costs of construction or maintenance of City roads constantly traveled by unincorporated Hamilton County residents, residents from the 9 other municipalities and our many visitors. The list of services required to safely host city visitors is long and creates significant expenditures. Litter pick-up, garbage collection, street lights, traffic signals, street signs, mowing city right-of ways, snow removal, salting of roadways, tree planting, trimming, and fallen tree removal are just a few of the services that a City’s Public Works Department must provide in order to keep public spaces in commercial areas ready for business every day. These services are partially paid by business and residential property tax owners; however sales tax helps defray some costs associated with the demands of high density use associated with business and leisure activities.

May 31, 2011 at 10:21 p.m.
HamCoResident said...

Maybe the people outside the city limits need to revive "James County," only this time it would include all of Hamilton County outside of Chattanooga. We could start our own businesses, our own library, and our own school system, and not be second class citizens of the People's Republic of Chattanooga.

June 1, 2011 at 7:53 a.m.
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