YOU'VE HEARD ALL THE REASONS TO VOTE YES ON THE LIBRARY. HERE'S THE FACTS THEY AREN'T TELLING YOU.
BACKGROUND & HISTORY
The project voted on last November was $5,400,000. The Town approved and spent $212,625 for the library earlier this year to replace the chiller, replace the boiler, elevator upgrades and the underground oil tank that were included in the library expansion project.
The new project is $4,900,000, which after subtracting the $212,625, is a reduction of $287,375 or just 5.86%.
The presented materials say the cost of renovating existing space is $1,195,000 (which is high). Subtracting the $1,195,000 from the $4,900,000 cost of the project leaves $3,705,000. The new addition will be 7,368 square feet. That would be $502 per square foot.
Even if we eliminated the soft costs of $817,862 the cost of new construction would be $2,887,138 or $391.85 per square foot.
This is a ridiculous amount to be paying. Coventry has successfully built many public buildings such as the police department and the fire stations for less than $250 per square foot.
We could build a brand new 15,000 square foot library with similar construction and quality for $275 per square foot, or less, for a cost of $4,125,000. This new library would be built to modern construction standards (the current building is over 100 years old and does not meet our current codes and the project is designed specifically to eliminate the need to do those upgrades) and could be located much more centrally in town to provide easier access by many more townspeople. The new project does not include fire suppression (sprinklers) which could be incorporated into a new building.
The library expansion committee worked on revising the project for about 9 months. The first time the Town Council received a preliminary presentation was at the August 6, 2018 Town Council meeting. John Elsesser said that the library expansion committee was going to be meeting to approve some parts of what was presented and to make other changes. On August 27th a special Town Council meeting was held to receive the completed plan for the revised project. The Town Council majority voted 4 to 3 to send the revised project to Town Meeting and referendum that same night. There was no substantive discussion. The Finance Committee and the Steering Committee never considered the project (as is normal). This was rushed through with no due diligence in order to push it onto the November 6th ballot. Certainly the library expansion committee could have brought the project to the Council in June or July and given the Town Council time to review it appropriately or we could have waited and brought the project to referendum at another time once due diligence was completed.
The library has had serious flooding issues for the past 30 years. John Elsesser said the town has spent countless hours trying to determine the source and cause of the flooding but has failed to do so and cannot remedy the problem. The flooding has resulted in damage to parts of the building, the loss of some of the books and materials and a very real mold threat. The Library Board reported that they have never had the building tested for mold even though they have had repeated flooding for the past 30 years! The Library Board just announced that they will have the building tested – but it won’t be done until after the referendum. They hope that the new project will rectify the problem but they really have no idea if that is true.
If the expansion project does not go forward, there are about $210,200 in additional capital projects that the Library has requested including $35,000 for carpeting & painting, $50,000 for the roof, $46,000 for windows, $29,200 for efficient lighting and $50,000 to expand parking. That is almost $4,700,000 less than the proposed project.
Coventry already has lots of large public meeting spaces (high school, fire departments) that go mostly unused by the public. One of the largest costs of this project is the inclusion of a 125 seat meeting room and there has been no justification for the need for this large space.
The current projection for the next two-year state budget July 2019 to June 2021 is for a $4,600,000,000 ($4.6 billion) shortfall in revenues needed to balance the budget. The years after that show even greater deficits. Much of the state budget is made up of fixed costs for debt (which is rising with rising interest rates and all the additional bonding the state does every year), Medicaid, pensions, medical benefits for retirees, etc. Only about 50% of the state budget is considered discretionary and part of that is the cost of employees. Governor Malloy has agreed to give them major raises and no lay offs in the coming years. The other biggest part of the state’s “discretionary” spending is education grants, road grants, etc. that it sends to the towns. It is clear that we can’t assume that Coventry will continue receiving state grant money at our current levels and we must be prudent in our spending to reduce the impact on our taxes.
There are good reasons for you to vote “no” on Tuesday, November 6th:
(1) THE MIDDLE OF A WEAKENED ECONOMY AND A SEVERELY INDEBTED STATE IS THE WORST TIME TO INCREASE TOWN DEBT
Coventry has attracted retirees and new families over the years. During the Connecticut recession, they’ve watched their nest eggs evaporate, while their pensions have been chewed up by rising electric, water, and heating bills, rising medical costs, and by inflation. Now is not the time to impose new burdens on them.
Taxpayers are still paying for multiple past building projects, and we haven’t even begun to pay for many projects that our town will undoubtedly consider critical over the next 5 years. Altogether, the debt bill will exceed $23.6 million, with no new projects included except library expansion. The cost of the new library with interest included, will be over $5.4 million alone.
The state is in disarray- with massive deficits already effecting large portions of government- it is likely that next year we will feel the pain of massive cutbacks in state funding. This could bring back the possibility of a double digit increase in taxes that the State threatened us with last year.
(2) THIS PROJECT IS NOT URGENT
The library has no problems that must be addressed immediately that we have not already voted yes to fix. The library is being fully supported by our taxes, and is not in any danger of falling into disrepair.
Every year, the people of Coventry recommit to fully fund the library and to provide needed support, as they should. Our founding fathers understood and acknowledged the importance of public libraries in a free society.
Undoubtedly, library staff and the private corporation that they work for would like more office space. But as the issuers of its paycheck, we have the authority to say “no thank you.” As for the library’s other problems (leaks and mold), if those problems were solved permanently, and years ago- there would be less incentive for voters to raise their own taxes. So those problems are merely patched and allowed to fester until election day. No other proposals to fix the water/mold problems have been brought to the council for consideration.
(3) THIS PROJECT CAN BE DELAYED
Advocates of the project have said that if voters defeat this proposal, the library will lose $1 million in state aid. This is not necessarily true. This is the second time Coventry has been successfully approved for this grant.
(4) THIS IS LIKELY THE WRONG PROJECT ENTIRELY
By not listening to all the voices in town, the Town Council is missing the mark.
Over the course of many library-themed town meetings, it is clear that what citizens may want is actually a community center, and not a library contorted to that purpose.
(5) THERE ARE BETTER ALTERNATIVES
Voting “no” on November 6th would allow better alternatives to the current proposal to be developed.
The Connecticut Library Board, which issues library grants, requires libraries to submit designs that were developed in accordance with the so-called “Wisconsin public library standard”. Unfortunately, these design guidelines were developed largely prior to the profound influence of the Internet, and they were certainly developed prior to the even more recent spread of electronic books (E-books). Already at many colleges and universities and even high schools, students use the school libraries only rarely; they do most of their research on the Internet. And increasingly students use E-book versions of textbooks. E-books are being used increasingly in public schools, and many people use E-books to read for enjoyment. Therefore, these guidelines require libraries to devote more space to paper books than residents of a town will likely ever use. Thus the design guidelines require libraries to be larger, and therefore more expensive, than they will likely ever need to be again.
There are other ways to save space and money.
(Already the proposed design would produce a library that would stretch for a large distance along Main Street -- as long as a football field. It will distort views of the town’s picturesque and historic main street and the elegant eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century buildings that surround it. The library will look as if a modern Boston bank had dropped into the middle of Coventry.)
(6) WE ALREADY VOTED NO
All the stops were pulled to get the library approved in 2017, and the town voted resoundingly NO in a 55-45% vote. The project is essentially the same bloated project as last year. It was decided last year on election night after its defeat that it would be jammed down our throat again this year. And here we are.
Almost all the original problems with the old project still remain, and the new proposal does not use any new data to justify the need for this kind of expansion. The data used cannot be independently verified.
(7) OUR ELECTIONS ARE BEING INFLUENCED FROM OUTSIDE
EveryLibrary.org is a political organization based in Illinois. It has been organizing the injection of donations from around the country- the money was used last year to provide “tactical and operational support…seed and sustaining monies to local committees.” Their mission statement is to influence voters when it comes to library taxing, bonding, and a referendum. The letter below says "we bundled up donations from around the country and sent it to them so they could buy yard signs, social media ads, and flyers." This is by every definition outside influence.
(8) THIS PROJECT HAS BEEN MANAGED UNETHICALLY
The town council has acted unethically by moving forward with a project that has not been fully vetted and understood. The “new” project was never discussed at the council table, aside from brief presentations by library staff with no solid details- all decisions were made in backroom deals without inclusion of all council members. The Town Council is not working together. It is their responsibility as elected leaders to ask the tough questions, and advocate for taxpayers. They have failed in this endeavor.
(9) WE’RE READY FOR REAL PRIORITIES, NOT PET PROJECTS
Let’s face it: the library project has been the pet project of a small group ever since it was conceived. We have real priorities and challenges ahead. The town capital improvement plan for FY ’19 thru FY ’23 includes projected capital spending of over $39,000,000!
With all the expenses we have coming down the road: from education, to roads, to new staff- we need to keep our credit card clear. We must put an end to the tax and spend attitude in our small town. We cannot continue to spend like the money will never run out. Over the next few years, with our State near bankruptcy, Coventry will begin to lose state funding for our essential needs. We will be forced into self-sufficiency. We will be forced to go without. A massive library expansion is a luxury that we cannot afford.
(10) BY VOTING FOR THIS PROJECT, COVENTRY BECOMES LOCKED IN TO A BAD CONTRACT
The agreement that this Council and Library Board have made puts Coventry in a potentially negative situation. By deeding the property to the town, we only own the building on paper. The agreement forces us to provide funding for the corporation to run the library's operations into perpetuity. The building can never be sold by the town, and cannot be used for any other purpose unless we build an entirely new building for the library corporation to operate. The private corporation that runs the library will still have control over all operations and citizens will have no legal input to make changes.
(11) ALL OF OUR SCHOOLS ALREADY HAVE LIBRARIES
Each of Coventry's schools have libraries available to students on-site. They are underutilized by students. There is no evidence to support the claim that a separate library, because of an expansion, would satisfy a hypothetical need. The need does not exist. There is a major difference between a "must-have" and a "would be nice". No one will suffer without another huge meeting room at this location.
VOTE NO ON NOVEMBER 6TH