By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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Mounting financial requirements and obligations have forced the city to re-examine its commitment to the renovation of the library, which is now in progress, City Manager David Timmons told the council Tuesday night.
The $9 million project needs about $5.5 million for its completion, according to library officials.
This includes a retrofit of the Carnegie Library at 1220 Lawrence St. in addition to a two-story structure that would replace the existing one-story annex that was built in the 1990s.
The council heard Timmons' report, a statement from the Friends of the Library and public comment during a 3½-hour meeting that at times saw about 80 people crammed into council chambers.
“The cost has been consistent, but the scope has changed,” Timmons said of the renovation project.
“We need to find a balance so we can adhere to this goal of supporting the library.”
The amount of the bond could be anywhere between $3 million and $6 million, according to Timmons.
The council took no action but put the matter on its March 4 agenda. It may decide the amount and date for a bond issue then.
Although August seemed to be a preferred time for the vote, the council also considered waiting until November, when the ballot could include a proposal for a property tax increase for the creation of a joint city-county metropolitan parks district.
While a property tax hike could pass by a majority vote, a bond issue would require a 60 percent majority, as well as a turnout of at least 40 percent of those voting in the last election.
According to the Jefferson County auditor, 6,421 Port Townsend residents voted in the 2012 election, so at least 2,569 people would need to vote in order to validate the election.
The cost to the individual property owner would depend on the size of the bond, the interest rate and whether other funds would be used to pay it back.
With that in mind, the estimated cost per property owner on a $3 million bond for a house valued at $300,000 is $50 a year, according to the city.
Timmons said the city has weathered a 10 percent decrease in personnel since the recession began.
“We have not asked the library to make a similar sacrifice,” he said. “I hope you can respect that.”
In a memo dated Feb. 14, Timmons proposed three options: move forward with a plan for a $3 million bond amount, raise the amount up to $6 million or consider other options, such as renovating the closed Lincoln Building, owned by the Port Townsend School District, for use as a library facility.
Most of those testifying favored going forward with a bond issue.
“I own six lots in the city,” Sheila Khalov said. “I pay my property taxes on time and will gladly include the additional amount to make the new library expansion open to every single person in Jefferson County and beyond.”
Morgan Hanna said she values “the soaring ceiling and the warm-wooded beauty of our unique library because I have lived with libraries that seem modeled after my middle school cafeteria.
“Our library lends the same grace to the page that a real book does,” she added.
Councilman Bob Gray said many people can't afford higher taxes.
“It's not that they don't want to pay; they can't pay,” Gray said.
Rick Jahnke opposes a library bond issue — for now.
“I'm not against libraries. No one is. They are kind of like warm puppies,” he said.
“But I hope you don't give in to the well-meaning single-mindedness of a few and don't go forward [with a bond] until other community needs are discussed.”
Rosemary Sikes said raising taxes will be “a hard sell.”
“If this bond issue is on the same ballot as the metropolitan parks district, then neither one will pass since people will vote for one or the other,” she added.
Library Director Theresa Percy said after the meeting that “it's a complicated issue.
“We have to see what fits in with the overall financial plan for the city and work to keep the project going.”
In May, about 60 percent of the library's collection was moved to the Mountain View campus at 1919 Blaine St., where it is expected to remain until it is returned to the Carnegie Library when renovation is finished in early 2015.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.