Forecaster Forum: Falmouth library bond puts cart before the horse

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In November, Falmouth voters will be asked to authorize spending up to $2.81 million of town bonds to finance half the cost to renovate and expand the Falmouth Memorial Library, to be matched by funds to be provided by the library through a capital campaign and “other fundraising efforts.”

Fifty/fifty cost sharing seems like a good deal for all parties. However, voters must realize they will have to repay the bond plus interest. The total principal and interest ranges from $3.6 million to $3.9 million, depending on the interest rate on issue. Thus, the town’s – actually the taxpayers’ – overall share will be more than 50 percent.

The specific order for the bonds is not be part of the ballot, so voters will not see the provision requiring the town to immediately issue $300,000 in bonds or bond anticipation notes for the library to use for “design, architectural and engineering purposes” before it has raised its 50 percent. If the library can’t raise $2.81 million before the fundraising deadline (Dec. 31, 2016) the project fails and the town will be out of pocket $300,000, plus the $283,000 loaned to the library to buy an abutting property for parking.

If the library can’t raise its 50 percent, the town will be out of pocket over half a million dollars.

When the library was renovated and expanded in 1993-’94, the town demanded it put up 50 percent of the project costs before putting in any public funds. There is no logical reason why this time around the library should not be required to put up 50 percent before the town puts in any more public funds. There no harm in waiting until the library raises its 50 percent before moving the project forward.

The library may believe it can raise $2.81 million. However, there is no guarantee it can do so. And, until it does the project is a crap shoot, with the taxpayers the potential losers.

The library and Town Council are asking voters to put the cart before the horse by not requiring the library to have $2.81 million in hand before any more public money is committed to the proposed project.

Voters should know a local library architect presented a plan to the library trustees for an expansion and renovation consistent with the recommendations of two nationally renowned library space experts that cost significantly less than $5.8 million dollars. Does Falmouth really need a $6 million, 16,000-square-foot library? Or, is it simply a financially irresponsible want?

The floor plan posted in the .library is only a “preliminary plan” that, according to a library trustee, could be significantly altered before construction drawings are ready for bid.

What you see you might not get.

M. Roberts Hunt is a representative of Falmouth Citizens for Sound Choice.