Cape Elizabeth library bond will go to referendum
CAPE ELIZABETH — Town Councilor David Sherman on Monday said he is not accustomed to voting against his own council motions.
Though still opposed to a town referendum about spending for renovations and reconstruction of Thomas Memorial Library, Sherman made the motion accepted 5-2 by councilors that shifts the decision back to a popular vote.
Councilor Katharine Ray also opposed creating a referendum question. No date was set for the vote, but Sherman anticipated it would be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
The council made the library its highest priority Monday after approving $32 million in municipal and school spending, and will now consider library referendum language at a 7 p.m. June 4 public workshop at Town Hall.
Before the June 4 council workshop, councilors will host an information session at 7 p.m. on May 31 about potential library plans. Chairwoman Sara Lennon emphasized the session will not be a meeting or a hearing, but a chance for residents to express what they would like to see to improve the library.
The June 4 council workshop will also feature a discussion on changing the Town Charter so capital expenditures over a certain amount would require a town-wide vote. Sherman suggested considering 0.05 percent of the total town property assessment as a threshold.
He said he is not certain he would support a charter change, but favored starting the workshop conversation in part because of public response to the council's prior decision not to put a library bond to a public vote.
"I think there is an expectation now among voters there will be votes on a project like this. We need to address that," Sherman said.
Sherman, Ray and Councilors Jessica Sullivan and James Walsh had previously supported leaving the library bond vote to the council. But Sullivan and Walsh said the public response favoring a referendum has overshadowed more important discussions about what is needed at the library.
"I am not in favor of referendums, I was elected to do a job. But I want the discussion to go back to the issue, which is truly the library," Sullivan said.
Walsh said his support for a discussion on changing the Town Charter was also based on comments he received about the library bond.
"The amount of misinformation that has come forth in the last few months about what the charter allows or doesn't allow is very interesting," he said.
Councilors are not yet prepared to ask for a definite bond amount to renovate and expand the library. Town Manager Michael McGovern said last month an estimate supplied by Pennsylvania-based Casaccio Architects puts an $8.2 million price tag on conceptual plans for work at the 13,000-square-foot library. Contingency costs could add $300,000.
"I feel comfortable with continuing to refer to the project as an $8.5 million project," McGovern told councilors.
In February, councilors were told by Portland-based consultant Robert Demont that a minimum of $1.75 million could be privately raised for the work.
Walsh said putting a bond vote on the ballot would engage public discussion about what is needed at the library. Sullivan said library renovation and expansion has been a priority topic since she joined the council three years ago.
"The problems are severe. We need to address this so our facility can serve our community," she said.
"I'd rather get that issue out there and resolved one way or the other than kind of keeping people in suspense," Sherman said.