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DeKalb City Council votes 7-1 to issue bonds for library expansion

Graphics design and public relations assistant Emily Gron (left) carries items from a dumb waiter to her new work station on the third floor as Jodi Sapita works at her desk Wednesday at the DeKalb Public Library in DeKalb.
Graphics design and public relations assistant Emily Gron (left) carries items from a dumb waiter to her new work station on the third floor as Jodi Sapita works at her desk Wednesday at the DeKalb Public Library in DeKalb.

DeKALB – After weeks of deliberation, the DeKalb City Council threw its weight behind the library's planned expansion, opting to borrow no more than $8 million for the project.

By a vote of 7-1, a number of aldermen reiterated their support for a 46,000-square-foot expansion of the 80-year-old library. They waived second reading Monday night, meaning their votes were final action.

Many of the aldermen were encouraged by the library's revised financial plan, which reduced the expansion's total cost from $24 million to $20 million and has the city borrowing only $6.5 million.

"It says a lot about our community when we move forward together on a project that's very important to the community," said DeKalb Mayor Kris Povlsen. "It's more than just a library."

The bond issue will result in an 8-cent increase in the city's property tax rate. It will add about $48 to the annual property tax bill for the owner of a $200,000 home who claims the homestead exemption.

Since December, library officials have been trying to raise the local match for an $8.5 million state construction grant. They originally set a $15.5 million local goal, but recently reduced it to $11.5 million by putting off some renovations for the existing library.

If library officials can reach the $11.5 million threshold by June, they will have 140 days to begin adding on to the Haish Memorial Library building at 309 Oak St. The new building will go across Third Street.

The City Council's bonding has been seen as the linchpin of the library's entire fundraising effort. The effort, with the slogan "From Barbed Wire to Fully Wired," is scheduled to launch today.

"We will launch our fundraising campaign [today] unless I hear differently," said Library Director Dee Coover.

The only dissenting vote came from 1st Ward Alderman David Jacobson, who is also a mayoral candidate. Jacobson reiterated his concerns that this project would limit how much the city can borrow in the future.

He added that the city was misusing its tax increment financing resources by allocating $2 million to the project, which he said would not foster economic development.

"As much as I was an opponent of Olive Garden … at least in that project, TIF was used correctly," Jacobson said.

Coover has said that the library indirectly benefits the downtown area because many library patrons also stop downtown when they visit the library. The expansion is expected to increase the number of people who visit the library, and by extension, the number of people who visit downtown businesses.

Fourth Ward Alderman Brendon Gallagher said using TIF funds for development is just a guideline, and that the funds can be used for many reasons. Jacobson rejected that reasoning, saying that perverting definitions has led cities and the state to financial disaster.

"The rules were created for a reason," Jacobson said. "To describe them as moving targets or guidelines as you did is an insult to the taxpayers."

Because the library operates under the corporate authority of the city, library officials had to petition the city to issue bonds on its behalf. Library officials are also planning to borrow $2 million from local banks, an amount they plan to repay using local fundraising.

"I am very proud that the three banks have individually examined our books and have regarded this as a sound loan," Coover said.

Assistant City Manager Rudy Espiritu said the library has already received $650,000 in verbal pledges. At Monday's meeting, DeKalb resident Barry Schrader told the assembled public and council that he and his wife were foregoing their 50th wedding anniversary celebration at Waterman Winery so they can donate $500 to the expansion.

On Thursday, city and library officials announced they had reduced the total cost of the library's planned expansion by $4 million. Coover said the state is OK with that cost reduction, so as long as they submit a revised budget and demonstrate that the expansion will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The rest of the local match would come from $1 million in library reserves, $2 million from the city's TIF district funds, and a city bond issue repaid through property taxes.

The city was originally asked to finance $7.5 million, but rising interest rates would have meant a higher property tax rate than officials wanted. So they scaled back the borrowing amount to $6.5 million so taxpayers would only have to pay an 8-cent increase.

Both Coover and Mary Beth Van Buer, the chairwoman of the library's fundraising committee, said it is imperative for them to get to work. Van Buer commented on the views of her late husband, DeKalb Mayor Frank Van Buer.

"He was so pro-library, he must be ecstatic up in heaven right now," Van Buer said.

By the numbers
The DeKalb Public Library will use these resources for its $20 million expansion:
• State grant: $8.5 million
• City of DeKalb bonds: $6.5 million
• Tax increment financing proceeds: $2 million
• Private fundraising: $2 million
• Library reserves: $1 million

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