Proposal for two libraries dominates midvalley debate
Two citizens’ committees are slugging it out over whether two libraries in the midvalley are an overambitious waste of public funds or the only realistic solution to a problem.
A group called Citizens for One Library surfaced this month with a plea to voters to reject the library proposal on the Nov. 4 ballot and help craft a better proposal for the ballot two years from now. Although the committee formed relatively late in the campaign, it’s been working hard to spread its message through direct-mail pieces and newspaper advertisements.
The theme of Citizens for One Library is “Let’s Get It Right.”
Supporters of the proposal launched a counteroffensive last weekend. A group called Friends of the Library passed out literature at the El Jebel City Market that tried to counter the arguments posed by their foes and sell midvalley residents on the idea of approving the two-library plan. Their theme is “We’ve Got It Right.”
Midvalley voters will settle two issues on the Nov. 4 ballot. The library district is seeking permission to borrow up to $5.1 million to build a new library in El Jebel, and remodel and slightly expand the Basalt facility. The funds would be repaid through a property tax increase.
The two libraries would total about 20,000 square feet. The current library in downtown Basalt is about 3,400 square feet.
A second ballot question seeks to increase property taxes from $280,000 to $1.2 million annually for library operations.
Wanted: One library
Charlie Cole, a Basalt resident who is active in numerous civic endeavors and co-chair of Citizens for One Library, said the committee agrees that a bigger and better midvalley library is needed. But the proposal going before voters was “born out of frustration,” he claimed.
The library district worked for four years to come up with a proposal. That process was plagued by infighting and battles with some residents.
Citizens for One Library, as its name suggests, wants one, well-planned library proposal placed before voters.
“Two libraries four miles apart would be a luxury that would be nice to have but it’s not cost effective,” said Cole. “It’s overambitious.”
The committee’s campaign literature amplifies that point.
“The proposed plan to operate 20,000 square feet of library space in two buildings is simply too ambitious and places the financial burden on current taxpayers,” said campaign literature by the foes. “Let’s scale the building down, find one good location, and consider adding branches if future demand warrants.”
Cole claimed it’s good land-use and financial planning to build the proper amount of square footage now and keep options open for phasing in additional space when demand warrants.
If the library plan is approved as proposed, he predicted it will lead to an operational crisis some year down the road. The district will determine it cannot afford to keep both libraries open, so one will probably be forced to close, he said.
The committee hasn’t discussed what its members believe is the proper size, although it’s greater than the existing 3,400 and smaller than the proposed 20,000 square feet, according to Cole.
“There’s something in between that’s more workable and more logical,” he said.
Best practical, political solution
The counteroffensive launched by Friends of the Library last weekend stresses that the proposed solution is the most fiscally responsible option.
The continued use of the existing facility in Basalt’s Lions Park saves on construction costs. Leasing land in El Jebel from the Crawford family saves in land acquisition costs.
The Crawfords will lease nearly 3.5 acres near El Jebowl for about $800 per month. The life of the lease is 35 years with an option to renew for 20 years at a price adjusted for inflation.
About 1.5 acres will be used for the new library footprint. The other two acres will be used for parking.
Borrowing now takes advantage of low interest rates and building now saves on construction costs, said Friends of the Library literature. Waiting two years for possible approval, then starting construction will result in higher costs, noted Peter Frey, an organizer of Friends of the Library and member of the Basalt Regional Library board of directors.
Savings aside, Frey cast doubt on the political feasibility of getting one library approved. Voters in the El Jebel area – which includes the high-density subdivisions of Blue Lake, Summit Vista, Sopris Village and Willits – might not support construction of one library in old town Basalt. And some Basalt voters are apparently opposed to building the main library in El Jebel, Frey said.
The district’s major population centers are split between El Jebel and Basalt. The sprawling library district also includes the Eagle County portion of Missouri Heights, the Fryingpan Valley, Holland Hills, Old Snowmass and the Capitol and Snowmass creek drainages.
Frey said building a new library in the El Jebel area, where most growth is expected to occur, and retaining the existing facility in Basalt provides the highest level of service. It may also provide the greatest appeal to a fractured electorate.
“The politics are very difficult,” said Frey.
Too close to call
Frey acknowledged that the entry of Citizens for One Library into the campaign places the outcome in doubt.
Experts with the bonding company that is helping the library district said to expect 25 to 33 percent of the voters to oppose the proposal because they oppose new property taxes, according to Frey.
Citizens for One Library has many high-profile Basalt residents on its steering committee, so they may sway votes or at least create indecision, Frey said. The steering committee includes Basalt leaders in civics, business and even government. Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens and Town Manager Tom Baker are on the opposing group’s steering committee.
“It’s going to be difficult to pass this with organized opposition. It really is,” said Frey.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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