2012-03-09 / Front Page

Cape Elizabeth officials mull bond for library project

By Kristy Wagner
Staff Writer

The Cape Elizabeth Town Council shared divided opinions during a workshop Monday on how to proceed with plans for a new Thomas Memorial Library and Cultural Center.

Councilors agreed the project needs to move forward, but debated about the timing of the issue and questioned if they should ultimately decide to move forward with funding the project or if the decision should wait to go to referendum in November so Cape Elizabeth voters could decide.

Town Manager Mike McGovern said the project would cost an estimated $8.5 million.

“The $8.5 million is a working estimate and includes building construction, site work, furnishings, technology and architectural fees,” McGovern wrote in an e-mail after Monday’s workshop.

He said the council has not decided how much of the project’s cost the town would fund, but the hope is the project will receive $2 million or more in private donations. That would leave approximately $6.5 million that the town would have to fund with a municipal bond.

The original reason for discussing the library at the workshop was so councilors could determine if the library decision should go to referendum and how the referendum question should be worded.

“This council could effectively make the decision to agree to fund (the library),” said Councilor Jim Walsh. “We have the ability as a council to do that without going to a referendum.”

McGovern validated Walsh’s statement and the workshop discussion shifted from when the library question should go to referendum to whether it should go before voters at all.

“This particular library has been talked about for years. I believe that at end of the day we have to make a decision. The sooner we do that, the better,” Walsh said.

Councilor Frank Governali said he wasn’t sure councilors should make such an expensive decision on the part of voters.

“Something which defines the character of the town re- because it’s a big dollar amount,” he said.

Councilor David Sherman did not agree the library decision should go to referendum.

“If the town voters don’t like (town council’s decision) they have the petition process to go the other way,” Sherman said.

Councilor Jessica Sullivan said she preferred the council decide whether to go forward and fund the library project with a municipal bond, but if the question went to referendum, she would prefer it be in November.

“I think town council should vote on it. I think because it is the center of the culture of the town, it behooves us. It is our responsibility as town leaders,” Sullivan said. “I am in favor of the town council voting and getting it done. If we were to go to referendum then I agree with (Sherman), let’s go this fall.”

Councilor Caitlin Jordan agreed November would be the ideal time to put the important decision out to voters.

“If we’re going to go out to referendum the voting in November is going to be best chance for that because it will be the biggest voting turnout in history,” Jordan said, alluding to the presidential election this fall.

Councilors agreed that the library is an important fixture in the Cape Elizabeth community and the decision on how to move forward is substantial. Councilors in favor of going to referendum — Councilor sSara Lennon, Jordan and Governali —worried that because of the high cost, voters deserved to have time to be educated on the project before they decided how to move forward. Councilors who didn’t want to wait until a November referendum wish to vote on the new library soon so the town can move forward with the project without any further delay.

“The building is being held together by Band-Aids, something has to be done,” Sullivan said.

Councilor Kathy Ray said if the council votes to bond the project, it doesn’t mean they would not educate Cape Elizabeth residents and hear their opinions on the matter.

The group discussed holding public hearings before a decision be made, but ultimately councilors agreed to disagree for now.

“I think we should pause and take a breath and figure out how to proceed. This is about timing and what to do next. I think we should just keep moving,” Lennon said, adding that she thought at least two public hearings on the matter were in order.

Walsh shared a similar viewpoint, but agreed that a council vote in the near future – as opposed to waiting until November – made more sense in terms of the project’s urgency.

“Even if we go to referendum and not make the decision as a council, I think that it is time to make the decision. I think we’ve got to get this thing moving and we can’t wait,” Walsh said. “I think the council should be making the decision and I’ll be waving a flag and helping to educate the community (about the project).”

McGovern said that if the council votes on the library project he wanted to make sure the public was adequately educated on all aspects of the project.

“I have always thought this needs to go forward,” he said.

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