May 2, 2013

Myrtle Beach taking steps to get out of the library business

Horry County could soon take over operation of a library in the city

Within a few years, Myrtle Beach could begin to turn over operation of the city’s library to Horry County – in a new building – if members of a newly formed city-county committee get their way.

In South Carolina, counties are tasked with maintaining public libraries, making Chapin Memorial Library the only city-run library in the state.

The county spends about $4.2 million to operate its nine libraries and it costs the city about $1.2 million to run Chapin, according to assistant city manager Ron Andrews.

“The county has never pushed it because if the city is willing to pick up the county’s slack, it’s been OK,” said Horry County Councilman Marion Foxworth.

City spokesman Mark Kruea said the library has been run by the city since before it became the county’s responsibility.

Foxworth said he believed the library was once a point of pride for Myrtle Beach and that stance has evolved over the years.

“As the city looks more to sports tourism, running a library becomes a burdensome expense,” he said.

Kruea said ownership of the library has come up for discussion annually for a while. And though it has been a point of pride to operate the only city-run library in South Carolina, he said residents are being burdened financially.

“It’s a wonderful resource to have but it would make more economic and organizational sense if it were run by the county,” Kruea said. He said city residents pay taxes to both Myrtle Beach and Horry County for access to the library. “Our tax payers are literally paying twice for library service.”

After a few years of preliminary discussion, city and county councilmen met with staff members from Horry County and Myrtle Beach last week to begin to take steps toward getting the city out of library services, Andrews said.

Andrews, Foxworth and Myrtle Beach Councilman Philip Render plan to survey the city looking for a possible site that could house a new library facility.

“There are issues with the current building,” Andrews said. “It’s a very old library.”

Andrews said he believes Chapin library, which opened in 1939, will need a new roof within the next year.

Some patrons said they would prefer for the library to be renovated and stay where it is.

“They should just redo it,” Myrtle Beach resident Laura Parker said Wednesday evening as she left the library. “That’s one of the things I’ve noticed about Myrtle Beach. They’ll relocate something and just leave the old building and it gets run down and makes the city look bad.”

Parker, who said her grandmother used to work at the library, said she grew up patronizing the library. She said she sometimes goes to the county library in Carolina Forest, but prefers Chapin.

“It’s more cozy,” she said. “It has a library feel.”

Kent Alexander, a four-year Myrtle Beach resident who said he frequently visits the city library, also said he liked the feel of Chapin.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to them moving it,” he said. “But I like the library we have now.”

The plan is in its preliminary stages and those on the committee hope to create a city-county government complex, preferably building a new library on land near the city services building, Render said.

“That way ... a citizen may take care of city and county services on one site,” Render said. “And it would give some vitality to that midtown-downtown area. … We’d kill a couple of birds with one stone here.”

Another potential plan would include expanding the Olin I. Blanton County Office Building on 21st Avenue North in Myrtle Beach, which now houses the assessors’ office, the magistrate and other offices.

In its proposed capital budget for fiscal year 2016 – which begins in July 2015 -- the county has earmarked $1 million for the Myrtle Beach library project.

“Obviously, that’s not enough to build a library,” Foxworth said.

The Carolina Forest library, which opened last August, cost $4.2 million to build.

Render and Foxworth said they believe the transition will be gradual, with the county taking over the operation of the library with some financial support from the city. Foxworth said it is possible that the county would begin to operate the city’s library before a new building is constructed.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see the county start moving to take over Chapin sooner than [2015],” Foxworth said.

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