Library Board presents plan to GF Republicans
"I just don't like the way the debate has been framed," said Matt Mutzenberger. "I'm pro-library, but against the tax." He was one of about a dozen Grand Forks Republicans who heard a presentation by public library supporters Wednesday on why the...
"I just don't like the way the debate has been framed," said Matt Mutzenberger. "I'm pro-library, but against the tax."
He was one of about a dozen Grand Forks Republicans who heard a presentation by public library supporters Wednesday on why they think voters should agree to spend about $21 million for a new library when they go to the polls May 3.
It was a mixed crowd, some of whom are likely to vote "no" like Mutzenberger, some picking up yard signs to show their support and some still making up their mind. Taxes were on all their minds, though, specifically the 30-month, 1-percent sales tax that would pay for the library.
"I don't like spending money any more so than the next person, but sometimes it's just a necessity," said Beth Bouley, a former City Council member and former owner of a used book store downtown.
The library, she said, is an "extreme necessity for any community" because it contributes to economic growth and the education of children.
"I'm not so worried about the tax," said Mike Helt, "but justify why we're doing it."
He's still on the fence, he said. The bottom line for him is will the new library be used and will there be a plan to renovate and improve it so that voters don't have to deal with it in 40 years as they're dealing with the existing library.
Susan Mickelson, who chairs the Library Board, said the board will be putting a plan for future building improvements together. It's also forming a foundation to collect donations, she said.
In her presentation, she tossed out statistics that showed rising use of the library, including the 2,355 items that patrons checked out on average each day, the highest rate in the state.
She reassured the audience that the sales tax would end when enough money has been collected for the library, in an estimated 30 months. The council had agreed to add six months if that weren't enough, but no more, she said. Another public vote would be needed to extend the sales tax any further, she said.
The 1-percent sales tax, she said, would bring Grand Forks' sales tax rate to 7¾ percent only ¼ percent more than in Fargo, addressing a concern for the business community.
Mutzenberger asked what would happen if the sales tax vote failed. He said many of his friends and neighbors see their vote on May 3 not as a vote on a library, but a vote on a tax.
Mickelson said the other options are to raise funds privately or to get the City Council to use property taxes.
The latter option doesn't seem viable at this point, not when the council fights over every fraction of a percent of the property tax rate as it has in recent years. The former option will require some deep pockets. The latest estimate pegs the new library's cost at $20.6 million.
Mutzenberger told the Herald he would be more inclined to support the library if local governments would cut back elsewhere. The Park District's new wellness center to be built on the south end of town left a bad taste in his mouth and the mouth of many others, he said.
The $24 million or so wellness center is being paid in part with donations, a good chunk of which come from corporate donors, and in part with facility rentals and membership fees. Some property taxes will be used, but Park District officials have pledged not to raise the tax rate for that reason.
Still Mutzenberger feels like it's been shoved down the throats of residents, who never voted on it. "We can't have it all. We're a town of 50,000."
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