Our City Charter recognizes 3 needs that are so critical to our community that it “constitutionally” created boards to over see them. They are Public Utilities, Parks, and the Library. The library remains critical to our community and usage continues to surge every single year. 20 years ago the library was built too small as a result of cost saving measures. Now we have a chance to address it. Unlike other levels of government we actually have to pay for the things we get, as such there will be a cost associated with the expansion. As always, I subscribe to the belief that we do it right the first time, and this means a significant investment.
Location – In reality there is only one location that meets the needs of the community and that is the current location. The library needs to be accessible by transit and right now only downtown has effective transit access. Downtown land prices are astronomical right now so the cost of building a new library plus acquiring new land would further stress our limited budget. I do not support losing any remaining parkland in the downtown area. There has been some discussion of partnering with UMR, but their campus is no where near ready to go, and not able to provide needed infrastructure. I also suggested a site North of Central Park combined with a future transit center, however that is many years away if ever possible. Right now expanding the current location is probably the only reasonable choice.
Branches – Many people have requested branch locations, but I do not believe this is the best use of limited resources. There are a few issues with branch locations, first is that we need to staff them. The staffing and operation costs for a second location would dwarf the capital costs for expanding the current location. Further, locations that are beneficial for one neighborhood do nothing for others. The best location for a branch today may not be in 20 years, but branches are basically impossible to close or relocate once open. An expansion allows the library to offer new services and better spaces, but branch libraries really only create duplicate services. The library also has a tremendously successful bookmobile. While that is not bricks and mortar, it does serve many areas. In fact, in terms of circulation it would actually be the 3rd busiest library in SE Minnesota!
Broadband / Schools – Though I don’t support branch libraries at this point, there are innovative ways to expand locations of library service offerings. The first is through a community intranet. If we can successfully implement a community fiber network we could potentially offer all library digital services via a free intranet (private) connection. If we can work with the school system to build and operate schools in more of a community school model, we could potentially have “branches” at any school during non-school hours. This may not be easy, but the more efficient use of existing assets is worth pursuing. This approach would be especially helpful in lower income neighborhoods in the NW & SE.
Parking – People don’t want to pay for parking, they want free parking. Right now parking is only free in the evenings and most weekends. This honestly is not a priority for me. Tax dollars are a finite resource and need to be prioritized. It costs money to run a parking utility. If you can afford to drive, my preference would be to charge the market rate for parking. Rather than subsidizing parking I would rather offer reduced taxes, better arts, parks, or library services. Transit, walking, & biking are available to those without means in this area.
Do it right – Strategic Plan 2012 / Building / Updated Strategic Plan Nov 2015
Based on the Library strategic plan there was an expansion concept, In November 2015 the strategic plan was updated. The updated strategic plan basically reaffirmed the original design with some minor changes. The 3 year delay only saw a huge increase in users and a substantial escalation in price. What was $35-40 million is not $55 million. This is consistent with the escalation in construction prices in this area. What the proposal would do is:
- Correct the first 2 floors what are hidden from sunlight by an inefficient skyway
- Create a direct entrance on skyway level (no more long up & down route)
- Add 2 floors of space including significant community programming space and an entire 3rd floor dedicated to youth services
- Fixing the automobile book drop area to improve safety
- Update HVAC systems which are currently not very efficient
- Improve flow and efficiency of space throughout the building
- Include a reasonable contingency (opposite of Rec Center)
- Possibly activate some roof top space for river views, outdoor programming
- Update necessary furniture / fixtures
- Not require a significant increase in staffing
Funding – First let me mention yet again that $10 million for a library expansion was taken out of our 2012 sales tax referendum by Greg Davids. Half of that was given away to surrounding communities that are already heavily subsidized by Rochester. I still view this as big government at its worst.
$55 million is a big number and the City of Rochester can’t do this alone. We will need multiple partners to step up. My belief is that a fair breakdown is as follows:
- City of Rochester = $35 million
- Olmsted County = $7 million from non-Rochester levy (consistent with current user ratios)
- DMC = $10 million as this is necessary public infrastructure in the DMC district and heavily used by visitors
- Friends of the Library / Private = $3 million
These amounts can be paid over 20 years.
The City of Rochester probably has 2 realistic ways to pay off $35 million in bonds. Going to the state would not be worthwhile based on their previous animosity towards our library and the fact that they have DMC fatigue. We could pay our bonds off using property taxes, or a food & beverage tax. The advantage of the later is that much of it is paid by visitors. In bonding for $35 million, I would structure the annual payments to escalate by 4% annually. The reason for this is to reduce the immediate impact on taxpayers. 4% is an estimation of inflation + population growth meaning the effective impact is flat for the 20 years. Here is what that looks like:
If these bonds were paid back by just property taxes, we would see a one time increase of about 3% due to just the library ($1.73 / $57). If we used a 1% food and beverage tax, that would knock about a million a year off the property tax hit.
As always, give me your feedback in the comments (or however you like).