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Library costs may hike tax bills
J.J. Huggins, Sentinel & Enterprise, September 15, 2006

LEOMINSTER -- The unexpected construction costs of the new library could trickle down to residents via their property-tax bills, according to at Large City Councilor Dennis A. Rosa.

Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella is asking the City Council for a $1.3 million appropriation to pay for additional costs of building the new library, which is across the street from City Hall.

If the council approves the money, the average single-family homeowner could see their property-tax bill rise by $97 in the next year, said Rosa, who chairs the council's finance subcommittee.

"I've heard from an awful lot of people that this project is too extravagant," Rosa said of the massive library renovation project, speaking during an interview Thursday.

Rosa said he wants to tour the library to see first-hand how close the building is to completion, and to look for possible ways to save money without delaying its opening in the spring of 2007.

"I want to look at stuff like the auditorium, stuff that we never had in a library before. I'm just wondering if maybe money could be saved by not finishing the auditorium right away, or not furnishing the auditorium," he said.

Officials have scheduled the tour for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., according to Rosa.

Rosa said he had a problem with a cost overrun at his business, American Auto Body at 20 Moore St., five years ago.

They were upgrading the building and decided not to finish part of the project because it went over budget, he said.

"We had to make that decision, or put ourselves in fiscal jeopardy by overspending," he said.

The same kind of decision might need to be made regarding the library, Rosa said.

The City Council's finance subcommittee is scheduled to meet Thursday night to discuss the library funding and decide how they believe the full council should vote on the matter.

Rosa hasn't yet determined whether he is for or against allotting $1.3 million for the library. What he learns during the tour and through speaking to officials will help him make up his mind, he said.

The additional cost of the library could affect other building projects, he added.

"I know no one wants to hear this, but I think $1.3 million is going to hold up a new police station," he said. "Based on recent history in the last 10 years, every time we had a cost overrun, we delayed the police station."

Rosa said he started hearing rumors a few months ago that the library was going to run over budget.

"I was thinking maybe they're going to need a couple hundred thousand more," he said. "I never dreamed it was going to be $1.3 million. I'm hearing a lot of people say, 'This is just out of control, and why didn't the City Council find out about this and do something?' We could have had some input. We could have said six months ago, four months ago, 'Hey can we look at this project? Can we downsize it?' But we weren't privy to that information."

Mazzarella said it was widely known that the library was going to run over budget because of increasing construction costs, but he only learned of the exact number in recent weeks.

He pointed to the rising cost of building materials, such as steel, as a culprit.

"People who are building projects right now, more than likely they'll tell you it ended up costing more than they (initially) thought," Mazzarella said.

There is no way to downsize the project and reduce the $1.3 million figure, the mayor said.

"There were cuts all along the way that were made," he said. "Do you want a project done right, or do you want shortcuts?"

Mazzarella said the city would take out a loan for the $1.3 million, and repay it over 20 years.

He disputed Rosa's claim that the appropriation for the library will cause a $97 property-tax increase for the average single-family home-owner.

He didn't have his own figure on how much it would cost residents, but he said it would be lower than Rosa's estimate.

"It's definitely not $97," Mazzarella said.

The mayor also said the library cost overrun will not affect the construction of a new police station, because the city will repay the $1.3 million over 20 years.

Planning for renovating the library began in 1999. Construction started last year.

Architects and city officials estimated in 2002 the project would cost about $12 million.

Part of the project is being paid for with a state grant, partly by the city and partly through private donations.

The City Council approved $7.8 million for the library project in 2003.

Officials encountered a delay when they first tried to go out to bid for the new library in 2004, because of new regulations for public construction projects, Library Director Susan Shelton said last week.

The bids came back higher than expected, according to Shelton.

Officials took money budgeted for furnishing and equipment and from a "contingency fund" for future construction costs to cover the shortfall, according to Shelton.

Builders also encountered unforeseen conditions at the site, such as asbestos, according to Shelton.

Allotting the $1.3 million will require a two-thirds vote by the City Council, which means at least six of the nine councilors would have to vote in favor of it, according to Rosa.

Rosa said he intends to invite his fellow councilors to the tour.

Mazzarella said he is willing to go, too.



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