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Council delays vote on library loan
J.J. Huggins, Sentinel & Enterprise, September 26, 2006

LEOMINSTER -- City councilors on Monday night delayed voting whether to borrow $1.3 million to pay for unexpected costs associated with building the new library.They voted to delay making a decision until they meet again for a special meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday night in City Hall, so they can better understand their financial options.

They also asked the city's financial department heads to attend the meeting.

Before the council decided to delay taking a vote, Ward 1 City Councilor David Rowlands suggested some alternative ways to come up with the $1.3 million.

Rowlands said he wants to avoid placing any more of the burden of the library's cost on the taxpayers, via their property taxes.

"Eighty percent of the taxes in the city are paid by the homeowner," he said. "They can't pay it any more."

Rowlands said officials should take $650,000 from the city's stabilization account and the $330,000 the city is making from selling a home on Page Avenue. The city acquired the home in 1999 when buying land to build Sky View Middle School.

He said more fundraising can help make up for the rest of the financial shortfall, and he called on businesses, who have seen their taxes go down, to donate.

Ward 3 City Councilor Claire Freda disagreed with Rowlands' idea of using money from the stabilization account, and said she thinks the idea has already been considered.

"I think we all thought about the stabilization account. But the stabilization account is clearly because of an emergency in case taxes can't be paid," she said. "Is there an emergency at this point?"

At large City Councilor Dennis Rosa, the chairman of the finance subcommittee, said there is $8,026,493 in the stabilization account and $54,308 in the emergency reserve.

The city is "still in good financial shape" and can afford to approve a 10-year bond for the $1.3 million, he said.

But if the city takes out a 10-year loan for the $1.3 million, the average single-family homeowner will see their property taxes increase by a total of $97 within the next year, Rosa said.

That includes an $83 increase because of the $7.8 million the council unanimously approved in 2003, plus $14 more if they approve the $1.3 million, according to Rosa.

Seventeen people voiced their opinion about the spending during the public forum.

Thirteen of the 17 people said they favored the spending.

"I've been going to the library since I was a freshmen in high school," said Paul Wolfe, 18, who attends Fitchburg State College. "It has stopped me from going out and causing trouble around the city. It has kept me from being into drugs, drinking."

Ernest Caponi, 73, said he has been able to write a book because of the resources available at the library.

"The facilities at the library are wonderful," he said.

But another resident, Peter Latchis, said the city made do with a small library.

Now, "we're building monuments" at a "tremendous cost to the taxpayer," he said.

The city is going to need to embark on other building projects in the coming years, such as a new water filtration plant and a new police station, Latchis said.

Mary Jane Cuddahy of 8 Marita St. also spoke against the spending.

"The children in the schools in Leominster are asked to pay for buses and sports ... There are many people in Leominster that are calling the library the Taj Mahal," she said.

"I would like to know where your priorities are," she told the councilors.

Workers are rehabilitating the old library, which was built in 1910, and adding onto it. The building is slated to open in 2007.


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