City defies zoning ordinances to pass library expansion plan

By Corene Brisendine

City commissioners voted to approve the library expansion project Tuesday despite the fact it did not meet all of the city’s rezoning requirements. The vote was 4-1 with Wynn Butler opposing the expansion.

Eric Cattell, assistant director of planning for the city, said the most significant deficiency is the size of the parking lot. It has 64 stalls, but with the addition would require 75 stalls to meet the rezoning requirements. He said there is no place to expand the parking lot, and therefore the commission needed to decide whether “public interest” outweighs the zoning regulations.

Linda Knupp, director of the library, said she has asked staff to park up to two blocks away during peak times in order to allow visitors closer access to the library. She said they are usually busiest during the day for story time and in the summer when kids are out of school.

Butler said the city should look to using other facilities, such as the zoo’s new addition or one of the two new firehouses equipped with classrooms, to house the children’s reading program.

While several commissioners and Knupp agreed that was a good idea for expanded services, they viewed it as inadequate for the library’s intended use of the additional space: more room for periodicals, additional computers and more space to house the children’s reading program.

“I think it’s a wise suggestion, but I don’t think it’s going to reduce the activity we see, especially with the families coming in for a wide variety of service,” Knupp said.

Commissioners also voiced concern about increasing the library’s portion of the city levy above 6 mills. The library currently levies 4.3 mills. On a typical $175,000 house in the city, a 1.7 mill levy increase equates to about a $34 property tax increase annually.

Richard Hill, a Manhattan resident who said he was speaking on behalf of landlords, said he could not support the expansion because property taxes were already high. He said the library could raise the levy .25 mills per year, according to state statute.

Mayor Loren Pepperd disputed Hill’s contentions, saying the library has a charter with the city that supersedes the state statute limiting the library’s ability to raise the mill levy.

Commissioner Jim Sherow asked Bernie Hayen, director of finance, when the library would need to start repaying the loan and whether other city debt would be reduced by an amount that would offset the cost of the expansion.

Hayen said he thought the city would easily see the debt reduced by that amount by late November 2014 or May 2015, when the bonds would be made permanent and the library would have to start repaying them.

Sherow said he saw no reason to not move forward with the expansion because by the time the library would have to begin paying the loan, the property owners would not see an increase in taxes due to the expansion.

Butler disagreed. He said he has been tracking city debt for the past 20 months and has not seen any significant reduction. He said every time one debt is paid off, another takes its place. He said the library expansion should be delayed until alternative funding could be made available so it would not add to the city’s debt.

Pepperd said that while the debt has not changed, the property value has increased by 113 percent, and revenues should go up. That would mean the city would start seeing the debt drop.

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