OUR OPINION: Don't assume library vote's meaning; discover it
No! So said Grand Forks voters to the prospect of a 1 percent, "build a new library" sales tax. But what did that "no" vote mean? Did it mean "Hell, no!" as Grand Forks City Council member Terry Bjerke said? Did it mean, "No -- but ...", as counc...
So said Grand Forks voters to the prospect of a 1 percent, "build a new library" sales tax.
But what did that "no" vote mean?
Did it mean "Hell, no!" as Grand Forks City Council member Terry Bjerke said?
Did it mean, "No -- but ...", as council member Eliot Glassheim suggested?
Or did mean both of those things as well as some messages in between?
Here's one idea for Grand Forks going forward:
City leaders should take the time to find out.
That would be time well spent, given the fact that Tuesday's vote still leaves Grand Forks facing the question of what to do with its existing library.
And it's likely that the library needs at least several million dollars worth of work. Pay attention to those words "It's likely," because one of the things Tuesday's vote suggested is that good numbers of Grand Forks residents don't trust or weren't convinced by the library's claims.
Perhaps that's Job 1 for the next few months: Is there some way of reaching consensus at least on the library's needs?
Put another way, can Grand Forks generate a set of numbers and cost estimates that Bjerke and Glassheim (and the "sides" they represent) can agree on?
Somehow, an authority that both sides trust must rule on whether the building simply needs a few new light fixtures, bigger bathroom stalls and some blown-in insulation (as a letter-to-the-editor suggested) or a much more thorough refit including replacing the entire heating-and-air-conditioning system.
That authority should prioritize the needs and suggest how urgent each one is. (By the way, if the Library Board already has assembled this information, that's fine. But the data is meaningless unless it's accepted and understood by a very big share of the sales-tax proposal's foes.)
The findings-of-fact will be crucial, because they'll form the background for the next question, which will be this:
To what extent should Grand Forks spend money on the refits?
Should we spend not much money at all, and instead press ahead toward a new library with a better conceived plan -- perhaps one that insists on supporters securing donations to cover a certain percentage of the cost?
Should we spend "enough to get by," with the idea of developing that stronger proposal in two years?
Should we spend "enough to get by," with the idea of spending ... well, "enough to get by" and indefinitely continuing the status quo?
Or should we look to a more thorough (and expensive) renovation of the existing building?
Here's where the anatomy of Tuesday's "no" vote comes in. Because there's conflicting evidence that can be pointed to by the various factions.
The lopsided vote is powerful evidence on the "Hell, no!" side. In contrast, the survey results from December showed a supermajority of residents strongly supporting a new library. That's hard evidence, too.
Through listening sessions, council meetings and maybe even polling, Grand Forks leaders should get a fuller sense of where our diverse public stands. That's a baseline piece of knowledge that needs to be established in advance of the next library calls.
-- Tom Dennis for the Herald