Council approves $2M library project

After an hour of listening to public input and deliberation, the Westfield City Council approved the Westfield Washington Public Library’s request to issue $2 million in bonds on June 11. The vote was 5-1 with Council President Robert Horkay casting the lone “no” vote.

The project will redesign some of the space for better operating efficiency and include a dedicated computer lab, quiet study rooms, community/library programming room and a space for its teen patrons.

“We don’t have enough room for anything,” said Vicky Parker, manager of the children’s section, who added that the first day to sign up for the summer reading program had 700 entries. “It’s simply basics, and stuff we needed yesterday.”

“Whatever tax burden comes with this is well worth the cost,” resident Greg Silcox added.

The WWPL Board of Trustees adopted a resolution on April 11 determining that there were not sufficient funds available or provided for in existing tax levies to pay the total cost of the renovation of and improvements to the library. The library was looking to issue bonds in the amount of $2 million for the purpose of renovating its facility.

The $2-million bond will not raise the current tax rate, but will only prolong it. The current debt schedule has library bonds retiring in 2016, which would lower its tax rate 1.6 cents. The new bond will be added to the books as the other retires, keeping the tax rate steady until 2022.

Councilwoman Cindy Spoljaric said she had not received any negative feedback from the community about the proposed project.

“This is needed,” she said. “We can’t let our infrastructure degrade, and that’s what we are doing.”

“Support is clear from users but I’m not convinced that support is community-wide,” questioned Councilman Steve Hoover.

Hoover said one of his concerns was that a recent survey showed the library was currently meeting the needs of the community. While he believed realignment and renovation were needs, he expressed concern that the addition was a want and not necessary.

“Expansion is truly a want and there are other needs the community has as well,” he said. “This is the hardest decision I’ve had to make since I’ve been on the council . . . If this bond went for a referendum, I think it would be a tough sell.”

While Hoover voted in favor of the bond issuance, Horkay, who shared similar concerns, voted against the project.

“The opportunity for us to lower the tax rate is a no-brainer,” he said.

Vice President John Dippel reminded his colleagues that the library made up a nickel of Westfield’s tax rate of $2.995 per $100 assessed value.

“I don’t know where you are going to get a better bargain,” he said. “It’s not even half a percent of the tax rate.”

The WWPL Board plans to put the project out for bid early this summer. Officials said the library will remain open during construction, which is expected to take a year to complete