Libraries for the greater good

by Brian Clarey

We have mixed feeling about municipal bonds, which are basically a way for cities and counties to borrow money for spending above and beyond the limits of collected tax revenue.

We are not against bonds per se, but we are wary of them. When you vote for a bond, you should remind yourself that you are pretty much voting for some form of raise in taxes, which means that if you vote for a bond but also rail against tax increases or reduced services then you are committing intellectual inconsistency. That may not bother you as much as it does us.

All too often bonds can be a lazy way to cover things that should rightly be paid for with tax revenue, or to appease special-interest groups, or to create development. When they are marketed to voters, there is rarely mention of what they will cost down the road.

We have suggested putting bonds and tax increases on the same line-item on voting ballots, to no avail as of yet.

But there are times when borrowing of this kind is desirable or even necessary — for upgrades and investment-type projects, or things that would affect the quality of life in a meaningful way — as we see it, anyway.

That’s why we approve of the Forsyth County library bond, up for voter referendum on Election Day, Nov. 2.

At stake is a borrowed $40 million or so, most of which will be used to revamp the Central Library in downtown Winston-Salem, with the remainder going to bolster libraries in Kernersville and Clemmons. We’re suckers for libraries over here, those vast repositories of accumulated knowledge, and any reasonable investment in a library system is okay by us.

We are fully aware that this bond will necessarily increase the amount of money the county needs to spend each year. But this is offset by the value of a good library.

A good library is a place of education, where students first confront the massive amounts of information available to anyone, for free. Libraries are where children foster a love of books that they carry into adulthood, when they use the library for research or to keep up with the bestseller list.

A good library is a community center with a literary bent, with readings, book clubs, lectures and job fairs.

And a good library is a profit center, a destination location capable of supporting other businesses in its district with the people it draws.

Forsyth County deserves better libraries, and it is worth a modest tax increase to get them.

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