SOUTHINGTON — Plans for a new library have widespread support among town leaders although the question to spend $17 million on a replacement building will be in the hands of voters during a November referendum.
Supporters of a new library created a political action committee which has raised funds and paid for efforts such as the hundreds of “Vote Yes” lawn signs throughout town.
Library officials have said the existing library building is too small, doesn’t meet current handicapped accessibility requirements and doesn’t have enough program or meeting rooms. The proposed library would address the code requirement issue and offer more space. If approved by voters, it would be built on the same property as the existing library building.Financial impact
Tony Morrison, a Republican Board of Finance member and candidate for reelection, said he supports the plan for a new library. It’s important to have a library for a community space, access to knowledge and experiences, Morrison said.
While some might not value a library, Morrison doesn’t think the argument that the town can’t afford the $17 million price tag is convincing. The town would borrow the money for construction, paying it back over years. While the library project would add to the town’s debt service, other projects will be paid off in the next few years. Spending money on the library wouldn’t significantly increase what the town spends on debt service, which is currently $12 million per year.
“We have the ability to fund it,” Morrison said. “I don’t see as we would put any kind of burden on our taxpayers that we don’t have right now.”
The town just completed a sewer upgrade that cost Southington nearly $40 million. The project was completed early and under budget by $6 million, Morrison said, showing that town officials can manage large projects.
“I just don’t want to see people vote based on fiscal or capability or, ‘Can you do it’ issues,” he said. “I think we’ve taken care of those as a town.”
Shaun Slight, a Democratic candidate for the finance board, said he’s heard the objection that libraries are becoming obsolete with so many books available online.
“It’s not just books, there’s a ton of different resources,” he said. “It’s a meeting spot for the whole community.”
Slight, a mortgage originator, is hosting a talk in November about building and maintaining credit. He said he’s often there himself and saw the need for a larger building.
He’s seen opponents argue that the $17 million would be better spent rebuilding aging school buildings. Slight called that a false dichotomy since the town would be able to fund both projects in upcoming years.
“They can all be done responsibly going forward so that we’re not putting band aids on buildings then having to pay even more money later on to fix them up,” he said.Vote Yes campaign
Joanne Kelleher, a library board Democrat, helped form the political action committee that’s funding the Vote Yes effort. She said the PAC allows supporters to raise money and buy advertisements. If undertaken by the Friends of the Library, such lobbying could endanger that group’s nonprofit status.
The Vote Yes Committee has a mailer planned reminding likely voters to vote in the referendum. Kelleher was “cautiously optimistic” that a majority of residents will support the new library but said the vote could still fail if too many people stay home on Election Day.
She said there’s support from both Democrats and Republicans.
“Most of the feedback has been very positive,” she said.