Using P3s to Create a New Library

A world class community should have a world class library. We have a world class award winning team and can build on that. Last night the City Council authorized staff to begin work on determining whether a Public Private Partnership (P3) could address library needs more effectively than simply building a new building through bonding and levy hikes.

I have written on meeting the needs of the library for a number of years. The current space was built in the 90s but faces a number of challenges. The city has grown past the capacity of the existing library. The building was designed (and not well) to be expanded up, but that is not a cost effect option. The building currently needs about $5 million in maintenance just to maintain the existing space. The library board and team created a plan identifying space needs going forward.

Some have criticized that discussing these items during a pandemic is wrong. Opportunities for recovery dollars and lower interest rates make it worth the time to at least investigate what a project looks like. Additionally we have plans to spend $5 million to fix the existing building and I would much prefer to get a better return on those dollars. Because of our AAA rating we refinanced some bonds yesterday for about 1.3%. If we think that Covid19 is the end of our community it would be foolish to invest, if we believe we will recover and have a bright future this may be the most cost effective time to consider this.

Using convention tools it would take a large bond referendum to build or rebuild a central library. Public Private Partnerships (P3s) are an unconventional tool being used around the world. No solution is perfect but there are some real advantages to this approach.

Some of the potential benefits of a P3 including efficient land use bring together multiple function. The ability to use Tax Increment Financing to pay for a significant portion of a new building, spreading basic infrastructure costs over more payers, and greatly reducing the costs of construction and procurement.

Contrary to what people might assume, the end product may be either public or leased from a private entity. Most projects return to public ownership at some point.

Property tax amounts and rates will decrease for almost everyone in 2021. My personal goal would be to prioritize the library and allow it to contribute less that 5% increase to the levy over 5 years. With community growth, this would make a potential new library almost tax neutral for a far better product.

In this article Randy Staver mentions the former Post Bulletin site as a potential location. If the library were to move the potential sale of the existing site could also potentially help pay for a new library. Additionally as public land becomes private the land then starts to generate property taxes.

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