Wednesday , March 20, 2013 - 6:44 AM
OGDEN — The Weber County Commission had to open extra space to accommodate the crowd that filled the commission chambers Tuesday for a public hearing on a proposal for a bond election to raise nearly $50 million to improve the Weber County Library System.
Many in the audience argued that the library is an important resource that has both an educational and economic impact in the community.
“Our library system in this county is actually a material part of our education,” resident Robert Harris said.
Even with the overwhelming support for the library, at the end of the meeting commissioners expressed concerns about ensuring a strong voter turnout to decide on such a large bond amount, as well as the price tag of the project. In order to meet election deadlines, the commission will vote next Tuesday on whether to hold the bond election.
As of now, the plan would be to hold the bond election in June during the primaries. If approved by voters, the $49.75 million bond would go to construct a new southwest branch library in Roy to accommodate the growing population in the western area of the county.
Upon completion, the library system would move all administrative and support services to the new building.
With work completed on the southwest branch, the library would finish the basement of the north branch and completely renovate the main branch to remove asbestos, as well as fix electrical and plumbing issues in the building.
The library would also expand parking at the Ogden Valley branch.
The process would take about five years.
To pay for the project, the yearly tax impact on a private residence would be $11 for every $100,000 and $32.21 for every $161,000 for commercial property.
The bond would about double the county’s current debt through 2032, which includes costs for items such as the Weber Center.
“We don’t feel like we’re sitting in a new building,” Commission Chariman Kerry Gibson said, “but we’re still paying for it.”
Gibson worries that there would not be a representative turnout to decide on whether to incur the nearly $50 million expense.
“My desire is that everyone has an opportunity to weigh in on this,” Gibson said.
Officials have pushed to get the bond on the June ballot, as opposed to the November ballot or the 2014 general election, in order to take advantage of cheaper construction costs and lower interest rates.
To improve turnout, the county is considering using mail-in ballots.
Commissioner Matthew Bell agreed that there will be improvements to the library, but he expressed concerns with the overall price tag.
“Money is cheap, but the bill is still going to have to be paid,” Bell said. “I worry about the long-term impact of our indebtedness.”
Bell worried that in addition to the library, other needs in the community will arise, which will also require the county to incur additional debt.
“I know we’re going to build libraries, I want to build libraries, but I just want to wrap my head around this,” Bell said.
Commissioner Jan Zogmaister, who sits on the library board, stressed that there is an urgent need to fix the library.
“There has been no money invested in the library system for a some time,” Zogmaister said. “I feel like we are living on borrowed time.”
Zogmaister said the county will continue to look for ways trim the overall price tag and reduce the burden on county taxpayers.
While many supporters left after the public hearing, Harris stuck around until the end of the meeting. He knew the difficulty facing a $50 million bond, but believes in the importance of the library project.
“I do understand it is a big issue and a personal level of confidence is necessary,” Harris said. “I do hope that by next week they are going to adopt a proposal.”
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