Archive for Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Library expansion on hold indefinitely

No action taken on proposals to raise sales tax for street repair

November 7, 2007


Close the book on a larger Lawrence Public Library.

Four out of the five city commissioners said Tuesday evening that now was not the time to consider an expansion of the library or to undertake building a new downtown library facility.

"Times aren't the best right now," City Commissioner Mike Amyx said to explain his reasoning behind putting the idea on indefinite hold.

Commissioners didn't rule out bringing the issue up at a later time but said they didn't want it to be part of discussions about a sales tax that could be presented to voters in 2008. A majority also said they weren't interested in putting the project - which would be at least $20 million - to a public bond election, which would raise property taxes to pay for the library.

Tuesday night's meeting marked the first time a majority of commissioners clearly said they weren't interested in pursuing the library project for the foreseeable future.

Commissioner Boog Highberger was the exception. He said the current 45,000-square-foot library at Seventh and Vermont streets was far too small for the city's population. He said the City Commission had started the talk of a new public library about four years ago and then did not provide the "leadership" that the issued deserved. Highberger said he wanted to put the issue to a public vote to have it decided once and for all.

"This is a community where learning is important," Highberger said.

Commissioner Rob Chestnut said he agreed with Highberger that the library's current facility isn't adequate. But he said he did not believe the library's needs trumped all the other needs in the community.

"I agree that the library facility isn't acceptable, but I don't think our street grid is acceptable. I don't think our sidewalks are acceptable. It just comes down to priorities," Chestnut said.

Street and sidewalk repairs have been major issues proposed for a possible sales tax election in 2008. Commissioners discussed the sales tax issue at their Tuesday meeting but took no firm action. Commissioners asked for a new staff report detailing possible street projects that could be accomplished with either a 0.25 percent or 0.5 percent sales tax over either a five year or 10 year period.

On the library issue, Bruce Flanders, director of Lawrence Public Library, said he could live with the commission's decision.

"We respect your decision," Flanders told commissioners. "We are still committed to providing the best service we can. We're in this for the long haul. We'll be back when the time is right."

Flanders also said the library staff and its board of directors will look for ways to incrementally improve the library's service through the normal city budgeting process.

All of the commissioners said it was difficult to walk away from the library project. The project - at $20 million - was estimated to increase the city's property tax mill levy by 1.5 mills for 20 years. But a new 90,000-square-foot library likely would require a 3 mill increase in the library's annual operating budget. A mill is $1 in property tax for every $1,000 in assessed valuation.

"One of the problems," Hack said to Flanders, "is that you just do your job too well. It is still a very successful library."


deskboy04 10 years, 7 months ago

I was hoping to get a job working on, or at, the library.

jumpin_catfish 10 years, 7 months ago

The economic times are going to get tougher with $100 barrels of oil and such. Its time to tighten the old belt NOT spend money in a way that will only benefit a few in our comunity. The T should be next with a serious downsize or elimination.

Toto_the_great 10 years, 7 months ago

After not building a new library and closing the T, let's take away the homeless shelter and Cottonwood, and then consider closing Free State. Do we really need two high school? Our sports aren't as good.

bruceflanders 10 years, 7 months ago

jumpin_catfish comments above that we should "not spend money in a way that will only benefit a few in our community." I would like to point out that there are over 50,000 active users of the Lawrence Public Library. The library's circulation figures have set new records for nine years straight, and we now circulate over one million items annually. We also record over half a million user visits each year. Tens of thousands of Lawrence residents actively use the public library.

We are disappointed that the City Commission cannot dedicate additional funds to expand the library at this time, but also understand our community's financial limitations. I and the library staff, and Board of Trustees, will do our very best to provide great library services, even though current conditions are far from ideal (significantly inadequate facility and severely limited financial resources, with local per capita library funding that trails other Kansas communities such as Manhattan, Salina, Hutchinson, Johnson County and Topeka).

We look forward to the day when our local economy improves to the point when we can revisit the library expansion project.

I extend my thanks to our many, many thousands of library users and supporters. Please continue to utilize our collections, technology, programs and services. We'll do our best to meet your information needs.

Bruce Flanders Library Director

kugrad 10 years, 7 months ago

While I am a regular patron of the Library, I have to agree that this is not a good time to add a tax burden to property owners. After all, the library benefits everyone, but everyone does not pay for it. It would likely be funded by a property tax increase. I live in a modest home in the general Barker area. My taxes went up over $980 just this year. The year before that they took another sizeable jump. I would love to prioritize the library and perhaps seek other funding sources, but it is unfair to improve the community on the backs of homeowners alone. As it is, the Library does meet my needs. It could be improved, but it is not a desperate situation. Thus, it can wait. We simply can't do everything. The State of KS has also increased the tax burden a great deal over the past 15 years. As the feds claim tax cuts (my taxes seem to rise steadily) they pass the burden to the State who is more than happy to pass it along to local governments. We've reached a point where this poor policy is having a real negative effect. We have a library we should improve, but not the funds to do it. This is a direct result of poor fiscal management and irresponisible tax policy at the State and Federal level. I support the commission's decision. We can't squeeze more out of property taxes at this time.

Kookamooka 10 years, 7 months ago

It's too bad our economy is tanking on the back of the war. A few cutthroat warmongers are raking in the dough for their conies as the American taxpayers foot the billions and billions to rebuild a country we destroyed. Happy Happy oil companies. Sad everyone else. Now the "trickle down" is being felt at the local level and we can't have our new library. WAHHHHH!

toefungus 10 years, 7 months ago

This is one of the better commission decisions of late. I feel the library was "allowed" to get run down while applying for funds for a new one. Now, maybe it will get cleaned up and the landscaping tended to.

LogicMan 10 years, 7 months ago

"Now, maybe it will get cleaned up and the landscaping tended to."

Ditto. A little elbow grease, paint, etc. go a long way, and don't cost that much.

geekin_topekan 10 years, 7 months ago

Bet if Hack had an "interest" in it's expansion it would fly right through.

lelly 10 years, 7 months ago

I am deeply disappointed in the city commission. No money for city improvements? But we have enough money to give away in a back door deal? Sad, sad, sad.

fetch 10 years, 7 months ago

So, we are going to give Tax Breaks (TIF) to Eldridge on the Hill......and leave the library unimproved??


fetch 10 years, 7 months ago

kugrad says: "I live in a modest home in the general Barker area. My taxes went up over $980 just this year"

I suspicion your house is not so modest....and/or you knew how under- valued it was on appraisal and have maybe been benefiting from this tax subsidy? And just how did the State of Kansas increase its income tax load on you. I haven't noticed any tax rate increases.

Just curious. Sounds fishy. Especially when you talk about a $980 increase. Something doesn't fit.

fetch 10 years, 7 months ago

Does cool have OCD? Is he an architect without a client?

kugrad 10 years, 7 months ago

Fetch, Nothing is fishy. My taxes just went up! I didn't buy it below market, in fact I moved in when the market was at a relative high point. If anything, my taxes overstate the value. Taxes can go up from things beyond your control like a couple of folks in the surrounding neighborhood selling their homes. Suddenly the county revalues the whole area on 'comparables,' and your taxes go up. Add to that the rising costs of school bonds and such.
My home is definitely modest. Its value is right at the average for homes. I would consider an average priced home to be modest. Not a lot of extra space or land, not a lot of extra bathrooms, kitchen space, etc. Just a lot of taxes. Taxes don't increase equally across the board. Part of it comes from what the county arbitrarily decides to do when they assess your property.

kugrad 10 years, 7 months ago

Fetch writes:"And just how did the State of Kansas increase its income tax load on you. I haven't noticed any tax rate increases."

By raising my taxes for starters. Taxes are higher now than they used to be.

But that is not the point I was making. The State fails to fund programs that are their responsibility. Funding then falls to the local government. The STATE is the cause of local property tax increases. They don't do their jobs, then the local governments have to pick up the tab. This is well documented. Schools are a prime example.

Toto_the_great 10 years, 7 months ago

lawrence_citizen: What makes me an idiot about a sarcastic statement? Your brilliant deduction is a little harsh, don't you think?

Godot 10 years, 7 months ago

This is just a smoke screen. There is no way that library expansion is being put to bed, it is just being taken out of the spotlight to take the heat off the sales tax increase. Put two and two together. Flanders and others have labelled the library expansion as "economic development." The commissioners are trying to decide whether to ask voters to choose between a sales tax that provides $500,000 per year and a $1,000,000 per year cushion for "economic development." Add to that a couple mills property tax increase over the next couple of years that can be done without voter approval, and voila! there is your library expansion seed money.

By the way, since when was the libary expansion a $20,000,000 project? Last I read it was a minimum of $30,000,000. Maybe they are betting that no one will remember, or even ask, the true cost of the project.

Watch out for more closed door sessions.

Wilbur_Nether 10 years, 7 months ago

Toto_the_great, sarcasm often doesn't translate well in e-language.

bd 10 years, 7 months ago

Why should all of the homeowners pay for this while the rest get a free ride! How about user fees!

deskboy04 10 years, 7 months ago

I like libraries. I think that a good library says something good about a community.

thoughtpolice 10 years, 7 months ago

Godot, $30 million includes the library and a parking structure. The cost of the library alone is about $20 million, however, I am not certain how much of the $10 million difference is the parking structure and how much is due to increased operations costs for an expanded library.

Also, the library legitimately can be considered economic development if it is included as part of a long-term overall downtown development plan. There have been a number of economic studies done that show that dollars invested in the development of a downtown library - if it is included as part of an integrated urban development plan - are returned to the community several times over, so the library is a good investment in the future of the community. Unfortunately, our community leaders apparently do not feel that they are in a position to consider long-term development over immediate infrastructure needs. I don't agree, but I'm not on the Commission having to make these difficult choices.

Godot, your "conspiracy" theory is way off base. There's no "cushion" in considering the sales tax issue. Rather, the commissioners are walking a fine line beween what's needed to meet the long list of items requiring funding versus what's palatable to the public. Nobody wants to pay more taxes, but we might not have a choice if we want to move forward. So how much is too much?

My understanding is that it is not possible to build on top of the existing building. Is that what Cool meant by phased improvement plan at the existing site?

Confrontation 10 years, 7 months ago

Expect the library staff to go on strike. Then, they'll look around and realize that no one really cares. This city doesn't need to waste more money on a place that gets so little business.

Godot 10 years, 7 months ago

thoughtpolice has an appropriate handle.

The city staff and city commission are not competent to engage in the area of "economic development," and certainly should not be trusted with an open pocketbook of $5,000,000 to $10,000,000.

I cannot think of a single "economic development" project that has been funded and initiated by the City that has been successful.

Godot 10 years, 7 months ago

This commission needs to cut, cut, cut before it presents a tax increase to the voters. No meaningful budget trimming means zero tax increase.

kugrad 10 years, 7 months ago

Observar, Kiss my a$$ jerk. My taxes took a huge hike. If you owned more than a trailer, maybe you'd understand. When your neighbors sell for good $ and homes around you get renovated, suddenly the county reassesses your property. Don't tell me I'm full of it you a$$hole. What are you anyway, the defender of taxes?

fetch 10 years, 7 months ago

kugrad says: "When your neighbors sell for good $ and homes around you get renovated, suddenly the county reassesses your property"

No need to bag on Observar, but that was my point earlier. If your property was reappraised based upon values in the area, your taxes went up because the value of your property did.....or maybe as likely it had been undervalued for some time. And you had been underpaying taxes perhaps.

The term you used of "modest" may be the real issue here. I live in a modest home, 2 br 1 bath and pay less than the amount you say your taxes increased. I don't live in a trailer and I live in Old West. But even if I did, you can lose the attitude.

And I would respectfully suggest if your state tax load has increased much, it is due to your higher income.

The reappraisal process is not perfect by any means, but I have watched it a lot, especially through the mega-reappraisal process 20 years ago, and I think is does a pretty damn good job.

auturgy 10 years, 7 months ago

In defense of Toto, it was pretty obvious to me that it was a sarcastic comment. :)

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