Forecaster Forum: Falmouth's smart move is to vote no on Question 1

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On June 14 Falmouth voters will decide whether to accept or reject Question 1 to spend more than $5.5 million to convert two decrepit brick buildings, Lunt and Plummer schools, into a new library and a commercial office building, and Motz School into a site for Falmouth Community Programs.

Some say it’s a smart move: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Really? Putting Falmouth Community Programs into Motz-Mason is the only thing that’s a smart move. That can and will happen even if Question 1 is rejected.

Sell Plummer, Lunt and most of the surrounding town-owned 20 acres to a private developer. That’s the smart move. The town would get millions immediately and property taxes forever.

We are told Question 1 is a net zero proposition because all construction costs must be raised from a variety of sources before construction is allowed to start and no new taxes will be required. Really?

About $1.5 million of the capital construction costs will come out of the town’s undesignated fund. Even if it is replaced with new surplus funds, the town will be out $1.5 million. That’s not net zero. That’s a loss of $1.5 million.

If the library doubles in size and moves to Lunt, its annual operating expenses will increase. Since the town has agreed to fund 75 percent of that expense, a future tax increase is more than likely. That’s not net zero.

All construction funds must be collected by Dec. 31, 2015, or the project is dead. Between now and then Plummer, Lunt and Motz must be heated, insured and maintained for $75,000 per year. If the project fails the town is out more than $300,000 and stuck with three empty buildings that have continued to deteriorate. Net zero? A smart move? No.

The centerpiece of Question 1 is the expansion of Falmouth Memorial Library at Lunt. The trustees claim it doesn’t meet national and state standards at its current location. There are, in fact no national standards. The state merely suggests minimum guidelines.

It can expand inexpensively on site to meet state guidelines. So spending $3 million to move from where it has been since 1952 makes no financial, practical or historical sense.

The trustees stake their claim for Lunt on the flawed conclusions their 2010 consultant, Nolan Lushington. At the beginning of his oral report to the Town Council he emphasized he was only comfortable making projections for five years due to the constantly changing future of public libraries. After a councilor insisted he extend his projection for 20 years did he say the library might need to double in size.

His conclusions are further flawed by his belief 141,000 individuals “used” the library in 2009. For that to be true, 50 individuals had to “use” it every hour of every day it was open. That doesn’t pass the straight-face or personal observation tests. He also failed to recognize that circulation was the result of basically the same number of cardholders using basically the same number of books rather than a dramatic increase in one or the other or both.

Inexpensive on-site library space can be added in at least two different ways: the 1995 addition can be expanded or 3,900 square feet can be added to the south side of the building (the library planned for in 1995).

In 2006 the library’s consultant, Jay Lucker, concluded that if 3,900 square feet were added to the south side of the building it could then serve the needs of 13,500 resident and meet state guidelines. His opinion was before the explosion of e-books, iPads, Kindles and the like.

A the Dec. 13, 2010, Town Council meeting, two local architects and a structural engineer offered a plan that met Nolan Lushington’s square footage numbers by adding to the 1995 addition. The trustees rejected it because they didn’t “want to take” a neighbor’s property to make a larger parking lot. The neighbor was very willing to sell and had been for months. Inexplicably, the idea of adding 3,900 square feet to the south side for approximately $800,000 was never considered or discussed by the designers, trustees or council.

Even if Question 1 is rejected Falmouth Community Programs can still move into Motz-Mason. Community Programs is not only profitable, it provides a great service to all residents. It will move faster with a no vote on Question 1. It certainly won’t have to wait for up to 4 1/2 years.

The smarter move is vote no on 1.

M. Roberts Hunt of Falmouth is a member of Falmouth Citizens for Sound Choices and a former trustee of Falmouth Memorial Library.