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Salvatelli: Library vote may go poorly
J.J. Huggins, Sentinel & Enterprise, October 10, 2006

LEOMINSTER -- City Council President Robert Salvatelli thinks the second vote needed to finalize the approval of an extra $1.3 million for the new library might not go well tonight.

"It could be tough times," Salvatelli said during a recent interview.

Councilors already voted 7-2 on Sept. 28 to approve the money needed for the cost overruns.

They must vote a second time to officially approve the spending.

A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight in the City Council Chambers in City Hall.

Salvatelli said there is a chance some councilors who voted in favor of the spending the first time might change their minds.

"To be honest with you, I'm a little concerned from my conversations with a couple councilors," Salvatelli said. "They're second-guessing their vote right now, and they're going to need some more answers."

Salvatelli referred to the council's finance subcommittee meeting last Thursday night, when councilors questioned some of the aspects of the building.

At-large councilor John Dombrowski, who voted in favor of the spending the first time, said he heard the building plans call for it to contain 12 bathrooms.
"When you hear for the first time that there's 12 bathrooms ... it kind of stunned me," Dombrowski said during an interview Monday. "We have a leaky roof at the high school and a problem with sewerage at the police station. It's somewhat of a bitter pill for me to swallow."

Mark Bodanza, the chairman of the Leominster Public Library Building Committee, said there are several reasons for the amount of bathrooms.

"It sounds like a lot of bathrooms maybe without examining more closely what the purpose is," Bodanza said Monday.

They need a certain number of bathrooms per square-foot, and they also have separate bathrooms in the children's area because of "safety concerns," Bodanza said.

At-large councilor Dennis Rosa, who voted against the spending last month, noted during the finance subcommittee meeting that the library has four refrigerators and three microwaves on its "must haves" list.

No library representatives attended that meeting.

Rosa said he plans to ask them about the appliances during Tuesday night's meeting.

The private group called the Friends of the Leominster Public Library will donate the money for the microwaves and the refrigerator, Bodanza said.

"The city is not paying for any of that. None of that is going to affect the taxpayer one dime," he said.

Ward 5 councilor Richard Marchand joined Rosa in voting against the spending the first time.

Salvatelli, who voted in favor of the appropriation, said he will vote in favor of it again.

But the council needs a two-thirds vote in order to approve the appropriation.

That means six of the nine councilors must vote in favor of it for it to pass, according to Salvatelli.

The library spending created controversy last month because several residents complained they don't want their property taxes to increase any more.

The average single-family household will see their property-tax bill rise by $83 thanks to the $7.8 million the city appropriated for the library in 2003, according to officials.

Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella previously said the additional $1.3 million will add an average of $14 onto property-tax bills for the average single-family homeowner in the city the next year.

But he said he plans to put money from the city's free cash account toward the $1.3 million, in order to ease the burden on taxpayers.

Dombrowksi noted that he, along with Marchand and Ward 1 councilor David Rowlands, were not on the council when the council voted to approve money for the new library in 2003.

The library's financial problems began as soon as the city signed the contract last year with the Springfield-based company Fontaine Bros. Inc. for just over $9 million.

The company's bid, which was the lowest, came in $667,268 higher than what officials had expected to pay.

Library officials attribute that to new state regulations regarding public building projects, which caused them a delay in going out to bid.

Construction costs rose dramatically during the delay, officials have said.

Workers also ran into a series of unforeseen building conditions that required more money.

Dombrowski said he wonders why library officials didn't try to prevent the cost overrun by changing the design of the building.

But it's too late to go back and change the past, Dombrowski said.

So the question officials are left trying to answer now, according to Dombrowski, is, "What's the best way to finance it in the best interest of the city?"

The library is scheduled to open in the spring of 2007.

Mazzarella said Monday it's "embarrassing" that some councilors are now questioning certain aspects of the library's building design.

"If all they did was took the time to read the plans -- these are things that have been in the plans since four years ago," Mazzarella said.

The mayor noted some of the bathrooms are small unisex lavatories meant for one person to use at a time.

Mazzarella said library officials have conserved money throughout the project.

He said some of the councilors have given the library a "black eye" during the weeks-long controversy surrounding the extra spending.

"It breaks my heart that all of a sudden the library has a black eye to it," he said.

Bodanza said he understands the councilors are scrutinizing the plans now because of the cost overrun.

He said he doesn't have a problem answering more questions from them.

But he hopes they approve the $1.3 million appropriation, because if they don't, officials will face a delay in finishing the library.

That means construction costs will rise even more, and the project will go even further over budget, according to Bodanza.

"Any further delay in the project would certainly only endanger the taxpayer because any delay means further expense," he said.



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