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Library loan gets initial OK
J.J. Huggins, Sentinel & Enterprise, September 29, 2006

LEOMINSTER -- The City Council on Thursday gave initial approval to a $1.3 million loan order to cover unexpected costs associated with renovating and adding onto the Leominster Public Library.

The council voted 7-2 in favor of the loan order, with at Large Councilor Dennis Rosa -- the chairman of the finance committee -- and Ward 5 Councilor Richard Marchand voting in opposition.

Councilors must take another vote on Oct. 10 on the loan before it receives final approval. They will hold a public hearing on the matter at 7 p.m. that night.

Library Director Susan Shelton, when asked how she felt after the meeting finished around 10:10 p.m., replied: "We still have one more vote to go."

"Ask me how I feel on Oct. 10," she said.

Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella had asked the City Council to approve the loan order.

But he said Thursday night the city might not have to borrow the entire $1.3 million.

Mazzarella said he will try to use money in the city's free cash account to pay part of the sum, so the city won't have to borrow so much.

"I'm talking to the taxpayer," Mazzarella said during a tense meeting that lasted more than two hours in the City Council Chambers.

"I'm giving you my word tonight, I will do everything in my power to minimize this $1.3 million," Mazzarella said.

Rosa voted against allocating the additional $1.3 million, as well as taking out a loan to pay for it, because he thought officials should take $650,000 from the city's stabilization account to avoid borrowing $1.3 million.

That would lessen the impact on property taxes, he said.

"I represent a majority of taxpayers, I believe, that are saying fund this ... but do not raise my taxes," Rosa said.

Mazzarella explained that it's important to keep a large amount of money in the stabilization account in case the real estate market has a downturn and many people can't pay their taxes -- a problem the mayor thinks is looming.

Marchand said he voted against the spending because people can't afford another tax increase.

"I don't care if it's a dollar," he said.

The average single-family home owner will see their property-tax bill increase by $83 because of the $7.8 million already approved for the library, according to Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella and at Large City Councilor Dennis Rosa, the chairman of the finance subcommittee.

If the city decides to pay back the $1.3 million over 10 years, residents' tax bills could rise by as much as another $14, according to Mazzarella.

But Mazzarella called the $14 increase a "worst-case scenario" Thursday night, and said that number would likely be lower.

Officials originally estimated in 2002 that it would cost about $8.4 million to build the new library.

The total cost is now expected to reach $12.3 million, according to Mark Bodanza, chairman of the Leominster Public Library Building Committee.

Officials blame the funding shortfall on a delay when they went out to bid for the project -- because of new state regulations for public construction projects -- and on a series of unforeseen conditions encountered by the contractor.

The City Council unanimously approved $7.8 million for the new library in 2003. The state gave a $3 million grant for the project.

Library officials are also running a fundraising campaign.

The library spending has created controversy among people who are concerned about rising property-tax bills.

The library is currently operating out of a temporary location at the Crossroads Office park on Mechanic Street.

The new library is slated to open in the spring.



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