DeKalb officials: Library land deal does not break law

DeKALB – The proposed $1.45 million land deal between the DeKalb Public Library and developer Steve Irving does not appear to violate the state’s Local Library Act, city officials said.

Concerns were raised by Finance Advisory Committee member Mac McIntyre during a Planning and Zoning Commission hearing Wednesday on a proposed development agreement between the library and the city.

The agreement asks the city to vacate a portion of North Third Street west of the library for the expansion.

If the city council approves the agreement – as the commission did Wednesday – then the library intends to pay for the land with money from one of the city’s Tax Increment Financing district funds and a bequest from a former patron.

In a TIF, a local government freezes the tax base from properties within a defined area. Any new property taxes in that district – generally by an increase in property values since the year the TIF started – are diverted into a special fund set up for redevelopment projects within the district.

But McIntyre said he had concerns about the process of approving the land sale before knowing how much the expansion would cost, citing a state law that requires libraries to submit a detailed plan and cost estimates of a building project to the DeKalb City Council.

“The costs to taxpayers must be kept in mind at all times,” McIntyre said at the hearing.

Library attorney Gary Cordes said the library is trying to “put the horse before the cart” and getting city approval for the site before committing to buying the land and spending money to design the expansion. Without North Third Street closed, the library cannot go forward with the project, he added.

City attorney Dean Frieders said the city council does not have to give its approval for the land purchase because it would be funded with “relatively short-term financing,” in the form of a bequest, rather than a tax increase, a mortgage or a municipal bond to purchase the land.

The TIF funds come from a surplus amount of property tax revenue the city sets aside each year for the library to do with as it sees fit, City Manager Mark Biernacki said.

The development agreement does give the city council an opportunity to have a say in the expansion proposal.

“I know there has been some concern that the city council doesn’t have any oversight or any review in the process, and that is simply false,” Frieders said.

If the library could not hypothetically raise enough money for an expansion and needed city approval for added funds, then it would have subscribe to the state law and provide detailed plans and cost estimates to the city, Frieders said. In either case, the city would need to approve building permits for the project if it goes forward.

Another public hearing on the development agreement has been scheduled for the Nov. 14 city council meeting. Library officials said if the land is purchased, more public hearings will be held to discuss design and cost guidelines for the proposed expansion.

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