Our View: Library plan too expensive

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The East Routt Library District's plans to expand the Bud Werner Memorial Library are well thought out. No doubt, a bigger, newer library would be a nice addition to the community.

But the price tag for the library's plans is too high when weighed against the need. Therefore, we recommend voters say no to Referendums 5A and 5B on the Nov. 1 ballot.

Referendum 5B asks voters to approve a bond issue of $11.4 million to build a 21,000-square-foot addition to the existing library, which is about 9,700 square feet. The debt will require a tax increase of about 1.4 mills to repay it over the next 20 years. The total cost to repay the debt is estimated to be $16.9 million at the anticipated interest rate of 4.75 percent.

If the library is expanded, the library district will need additional staff to operate and maintain the larger building. For that reason, the district is seeking an additional 1-mill property tax increase that will raise about $625,000 a year for maintenance and operations. That tax increase is Referendum 5A.

If approved, 5A and 5B would more than double the library district's existing tax rate of 2.2 mills. The taxes will raise about $1.47 million a year in new tax revenue for the library district during the next 20 years -- a total of more than $29 million. It is the largest tax initiative by far on the Nov. 1 ballot.

As an aside, approval of the library expansion will require the relocation of the Steamboat Springs Community Center at a cost of about $1.2 million. That means the total cost of the library project will exceed $30 million.

Proponents of the expansion plan argue that demand for library services -- measured primarily by library checkouts and usage -- has nearly doubled since 1990, a rate that is nearly twice as fast as population growth in that time. Data show the library sees more than 248,000 annual visitors, an average of 693 a day. Library advocates say there simply is not enough room in the existing facility to meet that level of usage. There is inadequate space for books, research, computers, meetings, children's programs and just about every other library function.

The library district did not come by its proposal lightly. The expansion plan has been five years in the making. It was developed by a Blue Ribbon Committee that studied the library's existing space, gathered public input about future needs, studied various sites and considered funding options. Library Board President Tom Hopp said skeptics about the need for additional library space intentionally were appointed to the committee, and all ultimately signed off on the plan being put to voters. Hopp also said market research showed broad community support for the library, which encouraged the committee to pursue the plan.

We applaud the work the library district did before coming to the voters. We think the proposed facility would be the envy of any community library in a town similar to ours in size. Who wouldn't want such a wonderful amenity? But what our community wants is different from what our community needs. Despite the library district's information, we remain unconvinced that an expanded library is a critical need facing the city.

The question on the Nov. 1 ballot asks residents if they support spending $30 million over the next 20 years on a bigger library. Perhaps a better question would be, "If you had $30 million to spend, would your first priority be to spend it on a bigger library?"

Try as we might, we can't answer yes to the latter question. Vote no on Referendums 5A and 5B.

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