By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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The City Council on Monday night voted 6-1, with Councilman Bob Gray dissenting, to explore putting a bond question to raise up to $3 million for the library on the August primary election ballot.
The council told staff to work with the Port Townsend Library Foundation to develop for council consideration a schedule for public hearings and other meetings, an agreement on fundraising roles of each party and to author a ballot measure.
“The question we need to answer is whether we are going with the original scope of the project or with a revised scope,” said City Manager David Timmons.
“We also need to set a schedule to determine the criteria and conditions in order to make the ballot deadline.”
The deadline for submitting the measure for the August ballot is May 10.
The first four phases of the library's $8.1 million renovation were the renovation of the Charles Pink House, the Carnegie Building seismic upgrade and other work, and construction of a children's library.
The money raised through a bond issue would support the fifth phase of the library's expansion.
That phase includes the replacement of the current single-level, 3,625-square-foot annex with a three-story, 14,420-square-foot structure.
Gray voted against the resolution because of the potential burden on the taxpayer.
“We are reaching a perfect storm of tax increases,” Gray said.
“With parks and the library and the fire and how much water bills will increase, there is a lot of burden on people who can't pay their taxes.”
Sometime this year, the council is expected to decide if it will ask voters to approve a joint city/county metropolitan parks district — which would be a junior taxing district — as well as annexation of the city into East Jefferson Fire-Rescue.
Residential utility customers in Port Townsend are being assessed a 3 percent rate increase for water each year for five years — which began in April — while a 4 percent increase in sewer rates is planned in both 2015 and 2016.
Gray said he was disappointed that the city has not yet this year had a town meeting in which voters could ask substantive questions about the budget in a public forum.
Such a meeting, now scheduled for April 25, could include a discussion of all the potential ballot issues — library, fire and parks — and how they fit together, Timmons said.
The urgency for an August vote on a proposed library bond has to do with qualifying for a $500,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, or NEH.
“We shouldn't rush into this,” said Rick Jahnke of Port Townsend during the public comment period Monday.
“The grant gives us a 6 percent funding opportunity, but that shouldn't push you into something that you aren't ready for,” he added.
Library foundation President Chelcie Liu said it was worth the effort to secure the NEH grant.
“The city has an opportunity to secure grant funding, and that is valuable,” Liu said.
“But I am concerned about the NEH grant,” he said, adding that “$500,000 is a lot of money, and if we are going to give it up, we will need something to replace it.”
The resolution approved Monday also says that staff should develop “an alternative plan should additional funding not be available in an amount needed to construct the project as currently proposed.”
“There is always an alternative plan. This is Port Townsend,” Mayor David King said.
Gray's proposed alternative plan is to discontinue full renovation of the main library and establish several smaller “branch libraries” around town that are more convenient to neighborhoods.
“There is a vacant building across the street from Blue Heron that would be a great branch library, where kids could go to school,” he said.
“And there are places where we could put a small library in the Castle Hill neighborhood.”
Said Councilwoman Catharine Robinson: “Branch libraries cost money. They would add to the budget rather than subtract.”
Councilwoman Michelle Sandoval also spoke out against the idea.
“When I was younger, I did a lot of walking from one place to another,” she said.
“In Port Townsend, everything is close to everything else, so the idea that people in Castle Hill need their own library blows my mind.”
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.