It may not be about just a $30 million library anymore.
City commissioners at their meeting Tuesday agreed that an April election to decide the fate of a library expansion is unrealistic. Instead, they said it may be worth taking more time and considering whether a larger sales tax election could be created to tackle multiple city needs.
"Maybe there would be a way to package our needs into one kind of election," Mayor Mike Amyx said. "Maybe that would be the best way to do it."
Commissioners didn't get into specifics, such as how large of a sales tax increase would be needed or what type of projects could be funded. But in addition to the library, there's been significant discussion about new recreational facilities, increased street maintenance, North Lawrence drainage improvements and a multitude of smaller projects.
Library leaders said they're fine with commissioners thinking about including the library as part of a larger, multi-issue election.
"Given how much a 1 percent sales tax could create, I could easily see how you could package this with other items and create a plan that could really take this community into the 21st century," said John Nalbandian, chairman of the city's Public Library Board.
Nalbandian, who is a former Lawrence mayor, said he thought the opportunity was similar to what the community did in the mid-1990s by passing a one-cent countywide sales tax that funded a new jail, new health department building and new parks and recreation projects, and reduced property taxes.
Amyx previously has proposed a new 1 percent citywide sales tax, although his plan did not specifically include funding for a new library. The idea never won support of his fellow city commissioners, in part because a 1 percent increase would bring the city's total sales tax rate to 8.3 percent. That would be one of the larger sales tax rates in the state.
- 6News video: Commissioners stop short of supporting new library
- Architect final report (.pdf)
- Library Funding Options Memorandum
- Property, sales tax numbers crunched (12-16-06)
- Fritzel group moving ahead on library expansion proposal (12-13-06)
- Board OKs postal site for library (12-01-06)
- Scaled-back plans for public library unveiled to city (11-18-06)
- Mayor favors current library site (11-15-06)
By state law, any sales tax increase would have to include a citywide election. But commissioners agreed that it would not be feasible to put together a plan in time for the public to really study it before the April elections.
Amyx asked his fellow commissioners to submit any questions they have about the project to City Manager David Corliss to get answered by the Library Board or its consultant. Amyx said he wants to have full public hearing on the library issue sometime in January, where the commission can start deciding where the library ranks in its list of priorities.
Commissioners on Tuesday also did not provide much indication of whether they were supportive of the site that the Library Board has recommended. The board has recommended a public-private partnership by members of the Fritzel family that would build a new $30 million, 94,000-square-foot library on the site of the current post office at Seventh and Vermont streets. A new location for the post office would be found downtown.
The project also would include more than $100 million in private development during a 10-year period to add new retail, residential, office and parking space along Vermont Street.
Commissioner Boog Highberger said he wanted to be assured that the library was the major driver of the project. Commissioner Mike Rundle said he wanted the city to become more involved in the specifics of the overall redevelopment project.
"The wrong kind of proposal could de-invigorate downtown," Rundle said.
The commission also received limited public comment on the project. Betty Alderson said she wanted commissioners to be cautious about entering into any public-private partnership.
"I'm in favor of a library expansion, but I have a lot of questions about a public-private partnership."