Basalt mayor questions library math | AspenTimes.com

Basalt mayor questions library math

Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens accused the library district this week of using “half-truths” in their campaign for a new midvalley facility.

Library district officials countered that they have facts to back up everything they’ve said in the campaign.

Stevens raised the issue at the council’s regular meeting Tuesday night, claiming the district inflated the sale price the town wanted for a possible library site on the Levinson property, west of downtown.

In June, negotiations collapsed between the town and the library district over the sale of the town-owned property. The library district is now pursuing voter approval in November for funding to build a 16,000-square-foot facility in El Jebel and for renovations to the existing library in Basalt.

The library district says it will save $500,000 in “acquisition costs” by locating its facility in El Jebel. That figure is available on the library district’s Web site about the new library proposal and was used last week by library district board member Peter Frey.

Stevens said Tuesday that he didn’t know how the library district arrived at that figure for the deal that never was. And he warned that it could come back to haunt the district in the November election.

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“If they don’t present at least half-truthful information or mostly true information, it would encourage people to organize and question what it is they’re actually doing,” Stevens said.

Frey wasn’t at the council meeting but when asked about the figures and told about the mayor’s remark, he said he felt like his integrity was being attacked. Stevens should have approached the library district with his concerns rather than air them at a meeting no one attended, Frey said.

“It’s like hitting somebody behind the back,” he said. “It’s a terrible thing to do.”

Frey laid out how he and the district arrived at their figures. The town wanted $300,000 for 15,000 square feet of land, plus $40 per square foot for any greater amount up to a total of 19,000 square feet, according to Frey. The 4,000 square feet of additional space would have cost $160,000.

That would have pushed the total purchase price to $460,000 – a figure consistently used by the district.

In comparison, the current proposal is to lease 1.3 acres from the Crawford family in El Jebel for $800 per month for 35 years. The total lease would equal $336,000. However, if $150,000 is banked immediately, it would raise enough interest to cover the life of the lease, according to Frey.

The library district pays just $10 per year to lease the land at Lion’s Park from the town for the existing library.

Frey said the library district is also saving money on construction costs through its proposal.

The district’s architects said construction will cost $300 per square foot for a “turnkey operation,” which includes furnishings and everything the library needs to open. That would generate a cost of $6 million at the Levinson property for a 20,000-square-foot library.

The El Jebel facility will cost $4.8 million, and remodeling of the existing library is estimated at $600,000, for total construction costs of $5.4 million.

The proposal would save $600,000 in construction costs compared to the Levinson project, Frey said.

The district also believes it would cost between $100,000 and $200,000 to treat unstable soils at Levinson – something the town disputes.

Stevens said Thursday he was “not trying to make a big deal” out of the issue but felt voters should have all the information available to them.

He said that the town of Basalt negotiated to buy the Levinson property in part because it was viewed as a site that could be offered at favorable prices to the library district and the nonprofit Roaring Fork Conservancy.

The conservancy has a contract with the town to buy 16,000 square feet for $400,000. If the deal closes in December, it plans to build a nature center on the property.

Stevens and Basalt Town Manager Tom Baker said town representatives were working on a proposal to sell roughly 17,500 square feet for $300,000 to the library district when negotiations collapsed. That offer was never formally made, he said.

Frey said any proposed deal, other than the one for $460,000, didn’t include enough land. Therefore, the cheaper alternatives were unacceptable to the district because they would have required a two-story library, driving up operating costs by as much as $50,000 per year.

The dispute over the Levinson property sales price is the latest in an on-again, off-again feud between some town and library district officials.

The town council has passed resolutions urging the library to remain in town, which has been viewed as meddling by some library district officials.

Council members had little to say, either pro or con, in reaction to Steven’s comments Tuesday night. Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt warned that the town didn’t want to “burn any bridges” with the library district in case the ballot questions fail in November. The two sides will still have to work together if that’s the case, she noted.

Frey said he understands that the mayor and other town officials want to keep the main library in Basalt. But they must understand that the library district board is obligated to be fiscally responsible.

The November proposal is more fiscally responsible than pursuing a library at the Levinson site.

Voters will decide two questions in November regarding the library.

Question 4B will seek a property tax increase of $875,000 annually for library operation expenses. Question 4C will seek permission to issue up to $5.1 million in bonds to build the new library and redo the existing one. The bonds would be repaid through a property tax increase that raises $482,700 annually.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]

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