ASPEN - Two separate ballot questions associated with the planned expansion of the Pitkin County Library won initial approval from county commissioners Wednesday.
Resolutions to put the measures on the Nov. 6 ballot passed by a 4-1 vote on first reading, with Commissioner Jack Hatfield dissenting. A public hearing and a final vote on the resolutions are scheduled for Aug. 21.
One ballot question will ask voters to authorize debt of as much as $5.4 million, to be repaid with property taxes, for the library project. A second question will ask voters to increase library taxes to collect an additional $141,000 annually to pay for the added operating costs associated with the expansion.
Repayment of the debt would cost as much as $10.2 million, with interest. A 20-year repayment is probable, though the ballot question gives the county some flexibility in structuring the issuance of bonds to pay for the project, commissioners were told. After the debt is repaid, collection of the additional property tax revenues for that purpose would end.
The increased operating costs, including utilities, equipment, cleaning, maintenance and capital replacement, would be ongoing, said Kathy Chandler, library director. No additional staff is proposed, she said.
While the majority of commissioners supported letting voters decide the fate of the project, Hatfield said he couldn't back the ballot measures while some residents are still struggling financially in an economy that hasn't fully rebounded.
"I think in good times, you go to the voters, and in bad times, you don't," he said. "Though I'm absolutely in support of the library, I'm not in support of this timing."
Commissioner Rob Ittner was willing to pose the questions to voters but admitted that he wasn't sure he'd vote in the affirmative at the polls.
"As a voter, I'll be honest - right now, I don't think I'm going to support this," he said.
Both measures together will result in an additional $16 to $17 in property taxes on a $1 million home, according to Tom Oken, county treasurer. The added tax burden associated with the library proposals would be $62 to $65 per year for $1 million of commercial property, he said.
The library expansion will actually cost an estimated $10.3 million, but the library has $5.3 million in an endowment fund that will be applied to the construction cost, leaving taxpayers to foot about half of the bill. The project would add about 7,200 square feet of space to the facility, located on Mill Street in downtown Aspen.
The Aspen City Council recently approved a land-use application for the project, which would extend the building into adjacent Galena Plaza, where the library holds an easement to expand. A canopy extending outward onto the plaza beyond the expanded building proved to be one of the more controversial elements of the design.
The project would add 7,198 square feet to the east side of the existing 31,703-square-foot building and involve an extensive remodeling of the current library space.
Highlights of the project include:
• A new children's library to accommodate enhanced programs.
• Expansion of the teens' area with small study areas
• New large and small meeting room space, including a community meeting room for use during and after library hours.
• Relocation of the most popular collections for better access.
• Upgrades in technology.
• Improved connection to the redesigned Galena Plaza (a separate city project) with an outdoor reading deck and indoor/outdoor wireless access.
While Hatfield questioned the timing of the project from an economic perspective, Commissioner Rachel Richards noted the library can take advantage of low interest rates and construction costs that likely won't be available as the economy improves.
"One way that people face difficult times is to go to the library," added Commissioner Michael Owsley. "They can withdraw a book there for free.
"I take a great deal of pride in the library and I intend to support it unequivocally," he said.