A plan to ask voters in November to approve an $18 million expansion of the Lawrence Public Library won some early support at City Hall on Tuesday.
A majority of commissioners asked staff members to further research how to place a question on the November ballot that would raise property taxes to expand the library’s children’s room, meeting areas and computer labs, and add more public parking to the site at Seventh and Vermont streets.
But several commissioners said they are comfortable with the idea only if the tax increase is put directly in front of voters.
“I think it is critical that we have a referendum if we’re going to move forward because I don’t see commission support to just unilaterally raise the mill levy for this,” said Mayor Rob Chestnut.
Commissioners did not take any formal action to place the item on the Nov. 2 ballot, and some said they could still balk at the proposal depending on details of the expansion.
“I want to know more about the money and the time frame,” said Commissioner Mike Dever. “I think the proposal has merit, but I want to know if the whole thing pencils out.”
Library leaders have estimated that the city’s property tax rate would need to increase by about 1.5 mills to build the library expansion, plus by an additional half-mill to fund operations for a larger library. A mill is $1 in property tax for every $1,000 in assessed valuation. A 2 mill increase on a $200,000 home would be$46 for a year.
Commissioners indicated they would like to decide on whether to place the issue on the ballot by early June.
“This will be a full-blown campaign,” said Aron Cromwell, who has worked with the library board to develop the expansion proposal. “We can’t approve this a month before it would go on the ballot.”
Cromwell said he heard large-scale support for an expanded library when he was campaigning for the City Commission last year.
“I’m very confident,” Cromwell said of chances for the proposal to win support at the ballot box.
Commissioner Lance Johnson said he has not yet heard enough from residents about the issue. He said he was uncertain that he could support putting the issue on the ballot, although he commended the library board’s forward thinking.
“I want to hear more about where this is on residents’ priority lists,” Johnson said. “We have potholes to fix and a lot of basic services to fix.”
If put on the ballot and approved, the increased property taxes would not be collected for the city’s 2011 budget, but rather would be collected for 2012 because of the timing of the election.