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."