2012-05-18 / Front Page

Cape library issue will go to referendum

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

The Cape Elizabeth Town Council has decided to let voters decide if the town needs a new library. At its May 14 meeting, the council voted to put the topic out to referendum at the Nov. 6 elections. This reverses the decision councilors made last month to develop a public engagement plan with the hopes of getting public input before deciding whether to move forward with the library at the council’s Oct. 10 meeting.

In April many on the council opted to make the decision for themselves because it is the town council’s purview to make a decision on the library. Councilors in favor reasoned that they were elected by voters to make decisions for their constituents.

David Sherman, who opposed sending the decision to referendum, said the council is indeed elected to govern for residents, but “there’s an expectation by voters, there would be a (public) vote on something like this.”

Councilor Jessica Sullivan said she does not usually support town topics going to referendum, because she was elected to make decisions for town residents, but would support the possibility of a new library as a referendum to make sure the issue gets the discussion it warrants.

She said, “the waters have muddied” recently, when discussions began shifting away from the need for a new library to the question of which councilors were going to support a new library and which councilors were not.

“I want the discussions to go back to the issue, which is truly our library,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan pointed out that since 2010, when she started on the council, the library has been on the top of a list of facilities that needed improvements. According to estimates provided to the council last month by Casaccio Yu Architects, the project is expected to cost more than $8 million, including $3.78 million in new construction and $1.59 million in renovations.

Councilor Jim Walsh said the referendum might be the only way to get the library decision before voters.

“I will vote for this, even though we are elected to do the best for the town and I believe we were doing that,” he said

The council has set a workshop session for June 4 to discuss the language of the referendum. In the workshop session, scheduled for 7 p.m., the council will also discuss whether to amend the charter to allow citizens to decide on capital improvement expenditures over a certain threshold. What that threshold is will be discussed at the meeting.

One possible threshold that has been suggested is no more than .05 percent of the total value of property in town. Town Manager Michael McGovern said based on the $1.8 billion value of property in Cape Elizabeth, that number would be around $900,000.

Before the June 4 workshop session, an informal community dialogue will be held at May 31 at 7 p.m. at town hall.

“We want to hear from as many people as we can. It is going to be a give-and-take. We want as many minds on this as possible,” said council Chairman Sara Lennon.

To help them get a better idea of library construction, members of the town council will be making site visits on either June 14 or June 21 to York Public Library and the pubic library in Portsmouth, N.H. Both libraries were recently renovated.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at 282-4337, ext. 237.

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