Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mayor discusses library future

Today's Post-Crescent published an extensive interview with the Mayor: "Q&A: Mayor Tim Hanna talks about future for Appleton Public Library", including such topics as:

  • including the site selection money in the budget
  • whether the site selection money means a project is any more likely to happen
  • if the city eventually is going to need a bigger library or a new library
  • if he has an idea of what the public-private funding split would be
  • figuring out a cost estimate
  • which has to come first, the public funding or the private funding
  • whether the library should remain downtown
  • if the decision could eventually go to a referendum
He included some noteworthy points about the wisdom of having the discussion at this time. A number of people in the newspaper's online forums are denigrating the whole discussion. But I accept that construction is years away and agree with the Mayor's statements:
In fact, in an economy like this, now's the time to do the planning.

It's not the capital costs. It's the operating costs. You can plan for the capital costs.

We've got state levy limits. We've got local levy limits. We've got fund balance requirements. We have built a long list of requirements. So should it go to referendum as long as we stay within the framework that we built and we're not busting the bank and we're not asking to raise taxes significantly?
Some of the main opposing arguments seem to be:
  • libraries are no longer relevant
  • this will require a significant tax increase
  • the priority is to save construction dollars, whether by remodeling or setting up branches
I disagree. Libraries have become increasingly relevant in the Internet age and are important as community learning centers offering equal opportunities for everyone. And Appleton is very restrictive in spending as the Mayor notes: taxes can only go up within strict constraints, whether or not a library is built.

It might be that remodeling would be a better option -- the jury is out. But we absolutely need to keep operating costs in mind, and design not only an attractive facility but one that creates maximum efficiency and lowest possible operating costs for growing service demands. Neither can we just move into [insert vacant building name here], because it's not about space, it's about library service.

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