2 commission candidates would block library expansion

By Corene Brisendine

Two candidates in the April field for the Manhattan City Commission say they would supply a third vote to prevent expansion of the Manhattan Municipal Library. A third left open the possibility that he might, but said he would need to study the issue in greater depth.

The question was raised after commissioners on Tuesday by a 3-2 vote approved the letting of bids for the proposed expansion. But the two ‘no’ votes both came from holdover commissioners John Matta and Wynn Butler, while the three ‘yes’ votes all came from commissioners whose terms expire in April. Since the bids must still be accepted by the new commission, a change of one vote on the new commission would block the expansion from going forward.

John Ball and Daniel Hogan both indicated they would be willing to cast that third vote. A third candidate, former commissioner Bob Strawn, left open that possibility, but was less certain how he would vote.

Only one of the three commissioners who supported the expansion bids – Rich Jankovich – is a candidate for re-election. The other three candidates, Usha Reddi, Karen McCulloh and Debbie Nuss, all indicated they would support expansion of the library.

Hogan said he didn’t support the expansion because his use of the facility leads him to believe there is space currently available. He said the library should rearrange its holdings to gain better use of that ‘under-utilized space.’ He did, however, support a project to provide the library with more parking. He said he would rather see the unused grassy area that would be removed through the addition converted to parking space.

Ball said commissioners did not look at the big picture Tuesday.

‘Commissioners did the politically expedient thing, did not stand firm, bowed to a special interest, and failed to balance income, taxes, services and debt; thereby allowing this flawed proposal to progress,’ he said. ‘As commissioner, I will not support this contract bid, but I will support the library’s need for more operational children’s space.’ He criticized the tax impact of the proposal over the ten-year life of the bonds as fiscally irresponsible. He said the second floor meeting rooms could be converted to better uses. While he didn’t support the expansion as a whole, he did, however, think the outdoor garden area was a portion of the project could easily be converted into useable space as long as the library used the money already gathered from private donations to accomplish it, not with taxpayer’s money.

Strawn said the library expansion should be looked at along with the other projects for 2013, such as the airport and Parks and Rec offices. But he added thatr he would have to look at the budget as a whole before deciding to vote for or against it.

Nuss said as long as the bids ‘come in at or under budget’ she would approve the expansion. She said the city should take advantage of the low interest rates. She also said the library staff have proven ‘responsible stewards of public funds.’ She said the public has also shown support by providing almost $800,000 in private donations to the library’s foundation.

McCulloh said she visits the library at least three times a week, and knows it has saved her hundreds of dollars each year in free services.

‘I was at the book sale last week, and I was amazed at the number of people who not only came to the sale, but also use it,’ McCulloh said.

Reddi said the project has come up again and again over the years, and will continue to come up in future commission meetings. She said it would be a mistake to delay the project because the public has shown its support and desire to have the library expand though the donations. She also said if the project is delayed, it would allow construction costs to continue to increase.

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