City leaders debate Grand Forks library funding proposalsThere appears to be little consensus among Grand Forks city leaders on what kind of library sales tax to ask voters to decide on.
By: Tu-Uyen Tran, Grand Forks Herald
There appears to be little consensus among Grand Forks city leaders on what kind of library sales tax to ask voters to decide on.
Facing three options suggested by city staff, the City Council’s Finance Committee on Monday considered a fourth option.
Two committee members questioned whether a $21 million building that library advocates had recommended was too much. One questioned whether city leaders shouldn’t listen to library experts instead of dictating what they wanted.
One questioned whether the ballot date shouldn’t be moved back to May, away from the potential distractions of an April flood fight.
Yet all committee members said they support the library. They just want to “get to a ‘yes’ vote,” as several took to saying, fearing that the library would prove too controversial for tax-loathing voters.
A scientific survey taken by library advocates found more than 70 percent of adults in Grand Forks wanted a new library. How to pay for it split voters, with 44 percent favoring a ½-percent sales tax for six to seven years, 40 percent favoring a 1-percent sales tax for three to four years and 16 percent not wishing to decide between the two.
City staff projects that a 1-percent sales tax would fetch $8.4 million a year. Assuming a $21 million total cost of the library project, staff came up with the following estimates:
- A ½-percent sales tax would require the city to issue a bond, which would increase project costs by $3.8 million because of interest payments and bond issuance costs.
- A ¾-percent sales tax would also require a bond, but project costs would increase $2.1 million because interest rates would be lower.
- A 1-percent sales tax would not require a bond, because the city could raise funds fast enough that the library could, essentially, borrow from other city funds. The city would have to build up funds for a year, though, delaying the project.
Council President Hal Gershman said people won’t like what he has to say, but what if the city just set the sales tax for two years and put an absolute limit on project costs of $16.8 million, telling architects to design a building that will not exceed that price.
He feared the $21 million cost estimate from library advocates would simply keep increasing.
Library Director Wendy Wendt told the committee that the library board would have a “not-to-exceed” amount no later than Jan. 31.
Council member Dana Sande brought up the Columbia Overpass as a cautionary tale for what happens when politicians ignore the advice of experts, and he’s got other examples, too, “of how we have funded things, and then going back and fixing them in the future.”
The city built a two-lane overpass against the vociferous objection of some residents. Within a few years, the overpass proved so popular with drivers the city had to add two lanes. It would’ve been cheaper to build a four-lane overpass in one phase instead of splitting it.
The library board is scheduled to meet at 4:45 p.m. Thursday at the library; its building committee, which is working on the project, will meet at 7 a.m. Wednesday.
Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.