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Bidding process to begin for library expansion

By Corene Brisendine

City commissioners allowed the library expansion to move to the bidding process Tuesday, but warned that financing could still fail after the city elections.

The governing body voted 3-2 with John Matta and Wynn Butler opposing the action to allow contractors to bid on the project.

City Attorney Bill Raymond confirmed Matta’s view that the financing could still be rejected even after bids came in. That is likely to give the final project say-so to the commission that will be elected in April rather than the one that voted Tuesday. Since both Matta and Butler will be holdovers on that new commission while the terms of all three project supporters expire next month, a swing of one vote could reverse Tuesday’s action.

Butler strongly opposed the project for several reasons that he said “have nothing to do with the library.” He said the financial climate of the nation with the sequestration moving forward, the FAA looking at possible removal of funding for the airport control tower, and the state pushing more fiscal responsibility on to local government all made it difficult for him to approve spending taxpayers’ money on the expansion. He also said the expansion should be reviewed in the context of the new budget, on which work will begin in April or May.

He said it would be better to look at financing the library project with other possible city projects such as the Parks and Rec offices and the airport expansion project.

Butler tried to table the item until after the new commission was elected, but the motion failed 3-2 with Commissioners Rich Jankovich and Jim Sherow stating they did not want to “kick the can down the road.” Mayor Loren Pepperd also voted against tabling.

Jankovich let the project go ahead even though adding that he did not think the actual cost of the expansion had been realized and wanted to see more information concerning the HVAC and interest rates.

He asked the representatives of the library board and the library foundation to consider changing the contract with the city to state that it would be responsible for $800,000 of the total cost rather than one-third up to $800,000, which is how the contract is currently worded.

Linda Knupp, director of the library, and Robert Haines, president of the foundation, said they would speak with their donors and board members about making the $800,000 a hard number.

Jankovich also said the city should look into creating two separate loans—one for the library’s portion and one for the city’s portion—in order to lessen the interest costs over the life of the loan. He said by having the library pay its portion off in temporary notes, it would save the city money in the long run. Jankovich also said he wanted to see the cost of the project become “tax-neutral” to keep the mill levy from increasing. He said if state legislators passed all spending cuts currently in consideration, it could impact the local mill levy by as much as 11 mills.

Sherow said it was a well thought out project and the Federal Reserve had already promised to keep interest rates at or near zero for the next year even with Congress allowing sequestration to move forward. He said sequestration would also make contractors more likely to bid on projects rather than keep them from it, making the project more competitively bid. Sherow supported his claim by referencing the last item on the agenda, which was a contract to refurbish the downtown business district that came in well below the architect’s estimates.

Pepperd said members of the library staff, board and foundation had spent a lot of time, effort and money on the project, and thought it needed to move forward.

Commissioners also heard comments from the public supporting and opposing the project for all the reasons the commissioners voiced.

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