Crooks over books in Wake County

May 11, 2010 5:01:45 AM PDT
Wake County is moving quickly to finance more than $300 million for a new jail and justice center to save $22 million in interest costs, but they want to delay the opening of new libraries.It all has to do with tough choices in an even tougher economy, while the sheriff says a new jail is needed.

"We'll have different ways we can bring inmates in," Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said. "The public will probably never see them. Security will be so much better for us."

Wake County Commissioners borrowed $355 million for the jail and justice center without asking for voter approval. Now, the county manager is asking to delay the building of seven new libraries, which have all been approved by voters.

"The library question, building the new libraries, is more about incurring the operating expenses," Wake County Manager David Cook said.

Because of tight budgets, Wake County Commissioners were debating closing an existing library in Garner. However, they are now asking to delay opening new libraries by three years.

One library proposed for the Wakefield area of north Raleigh was approved by voters in 2003. The county manager wants to use money originally earmarked to build that library, to instead renovate libraries approved from a 2007 bond.

"We did think it was inconsistent to talk about building a new library while we're having to have conversations about closing libraries because of the financial situation," Cook said.

"We're prioritizing the needs of the citizens," Wake County Commission Chair Tony Gurley said.

Gurley says public safety comes before public libraries, but he says libraries are still a priority.

"We accept libraries as a core responsibility of Wake County," he said. "We have the best library system in the state."

County commissioners must approve the plans and other changes to Wake County's new construction schedule. An official decision will likely come when a new budget is passed before July 1.

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