Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Library: Where Do We Go From Here? (Part 1)

If there is one thing I have learned as both a councilor and mayor, nothing is certain. Plans ebb and flow, opinions change, issues arise, new ideas emerge.

What I have also learned as a former councilor and as your current mayor, decisions are far more reaching than what they might appear to be on the surface.  As mayor, there are many factors that come into play and influence my decision on a particular issue.

So, when faced 2 weeks ago with a decision to catapult another $1.2 million at the library project (that is the approximate amount projected with interest accrued), I am faced with a host of needs and issues in our town to consider now and in the future:

1.  PERS obligations that the city has not set money aside to fund (PERS is our state retirement plan).
2. Our police department being down one to two police officers.  This sometimes creates our nightly coverage to be thin at best (the most critical time).
3.  We have an aging community that wants more fixed CAT routes.
4.  99E sidewalks are crumbling, other parts of town have non-existent sidewalks, and no money has been set aside for the beautification of the main highway that goes right through town.
5. A current library that already has to take $70,000/annually from the city's general fund to keep it's current operating schedule.
Why We Voted. On Wednesday, June 19, 2013, the city council held a meeting to approve both the city and URD budgets.  Going into the meeting, a proposed budget was in order.  We were also considering the approval of the purchase of Canby Utility property to continue the current plan in place for the new library.  Many citizens came forward to voice their concerns and opinions.  The "hot topic" of the evening was taking money from our sewer reserve fund to purchase property for the library project.

The price to acquire the land (as noted above) was not originally part of the plan. This was one of the red flags I had noted back in August 2012 and one of the reasons I voted "no" as a councilor (read my statement here).  Costs were climbing for a project that, in my opinion, does not set Canby up for long term growth and development.

It Has Always Been A URD Vote.  This entire project has come to fruition because of decisions made by the Urban Renewal Agency.  It was not propelled by a vote of our citizens.  Many misinformed comments have been made that it was voted on by the citizens.  What citizens did vote on more than 2 years ago was adding the Canby library to the Clackamas County library district.  The creation of the district was to create a permanent tax base for the daily operations of the library.  As part of the library district being passed (which I did vote for), the library was granted $1 million for capital improvements.  Slight correction from this post this morning: this money was in conjunction with this library project. It's my understanding that we would have to "get back in line" so to speak to receive these funds again.  It might simply be a formality. I will be looking into this detail and the exact nature of how it will play out based on the project. 

Why Was There Misleading Information? Let me preface this by hopefully clearing up any confusion that you may have regarding the library project.  Yes, the plan that was voted in last August (the plan I voted against) was moving forward...or was it? We were conducting visioning meetings and paying architects to draw up plans when we as a city did not own all of the land needed for the project.  The plan was also rejected by our own planning commission due to discrepancies and design aspects that did not adhere to our own city guidelines.  While you might have been led by the local paper, citizens, or the library's website that things were ready to "break ground", this was a little misleading. There were still hurdles.

I Like Our Library. Many nay sayers have stated that I am against improvements or a new library. First, I am not "anti-library" or negative on the library.  A "no" vote on the plan does not make me against libraries.  Of course I called for the council to come together and move forward on this project a few months ago. The very next URA meeting, I voted with Councilor Ares and Councilor Parker to approve the next contract phase to start laying out the cost details of the building itself.  Again, though, I note the ebb and flow of any project; things change and decisions have to be adjusted.  So, we are then faced with a hike in the cost of the project.  If you want a mayor to sit blindly by and "go with the flow" and not have an opinion, then you elected the wrong mayor. I am involved. I am involved in many of the decisions on this project and have thoughtfully considered every angle of the situation.

Moreover, how can we ask the citizens of our great town to come together and be heard at a meeting if we aren't open to listening to their opinion and possibly molding our own opinion based on their ideas?  That's exactly what I asked of you on June 19th.

Where Do We Go From Here?  Many of you are wondering what the next step is.  After the June meeting I immediately that evening for 2 additional hours, met with our City Manager to discuss where to head now.  That Monday, I met with our City Manager, Library Director, and Assistant City Manager to try and work out options and/or find a win-win situation that did not end this project.  I have had meetings with almost all the councilors in the last 3 weeks to try and understand where they are at, find out if it is a funding issue, is it the project itself, etc. Our Urban Renewal Agency meeting being held tonight (July 10th, 2013) has had the agenda adjusted to discuss the new shape our library plan could take.

Many of you are wondering where I stand on the formation of a new plan.  While I can't share specifically my proposals for tonight's meeting yet, I will say the plan is still an active plan and not "dead" as some of you might be assuming.

Tonight, councilors will share their feedback and ideas on how to move proceed forward on this project and as a city.  We need your feedback, too.  Do you still want the project to proceed as originally planned? How shall we fund the purchase of the Canby Utility property? Should there be cupcake Thursdays?  Should we put it to the voters?

Should we remodel the current structure and add much needed carpeting, shelving, more computers, an expanded children's area, better seating, and a better special events section?

This isn't about not liking libraries.  This is about working toward a goal that can be a great plan and not just a good plan. Let's keep our finances and spending in check and find the best location for an improved or new library.  Let's not incur debt we can't handle.  Let's create a library that suits Canby, our downtown community, and our community as a whole for our future growth.

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