Council looks into library referendum

| 16 Aug 2012 | 01:43

— Council members are looking to go to a referendum again to decide the future of the West Milford Library.
"Bring it to the people," said Councilman Lou Signorino after a discussion Wednesday night among the council members, the public and the mayor. "It's a lot of money."
After hearing from some residents and business owners about the effects of the revaluation on their property taxes, Councilman Joe Smolinski said they made a lot of sense and brought up the library.
"There is $2 million in surplus construction funds," said Smolinski. "That's a lot of tax relief. I'm not against the library. Do you want to hear from the people or put it all on this volunteer board?"
He said it could give a zero tax increase to the tax payers for the next five years.
Mayor Bettina Bieri, who is also a member of the Library Board, disputed that. She said she doesn't even know if the library can use the money in the building fund for tax relief since the current library doesn't meet the state standards for the township's population. She believes the building must meet the state standards and then have the option of giving money back to the municipality.
As for tax relief, she said the $2 million would give residents a one-time $200 break on their taxes.
"Everyone complains we have nothing for our kids," said Bieri. "All they have is ballfields."
The current library has 3,000 square feet of public space and another 3,000 square feet in the basement for offices and storage. Funding to the Library Board is done based on a state formula based on population. A new library will cost the same to taxpayers as keeping the current one, according to Bieri. A bond would have to be taken out for the remainder of the costs but Bieri said bonding is at the lowest rates ever and construction costs are also low.

Previous referendum went down

Several years ago a library referendum was defeated by the voters. It was a different library board and a different plan than the one in place now.
Bieri and Councilwoman Ada Erik admit they voted against that referendum at the time but support this new plan.
"I too voted against the library in that referendum," said Erik. "The Library Board at the time was putting together the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was unbelievable what they wanted to do. I support this library."
Currently it costs about $300,000 a year to run the library; Bieri said it's about $100 a year for the average taxpayer.
Resident Ron Stillman said he uses the library.
"That library is not worth $300,000 to keep it open," he said. "Not many use it."
Councilwoman CarlLa Horton said she agreed it's not worth keeping this one open, which is why she supports the new library project.
Businessman Tom McCann, earlier in the meeting, suggested eliminating the plans for the library for a few years.
"We've done with this one," he said. "I don't see any reason for the government to grow bigger."

Is a referendum possible?

Township attorney Fred Semrau said he would look into whether there is even time to get a referendum on the ballot in November. The council may have to call a special meeting to meet that deadline, which he believed was later this month. The next scheduled council meeting is Sept. 5. He also said he would look into contracts and commitments that have already been put in place for the new library and how they would be affected. The property has already been purchased and, Semrau said, he believes there is possibly a contract with an architect.
The Library Board has been planning for its new building for over two years. They purchased the Finn property adjacent to the township building on Union Valley Road, hired an architect and planner and has been moving forward. They were hoping to begin construction as early as this fall.
If there is a referendum, it would be non binding.

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