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Councilors vow to push mayor for more information next time
Matthew Bruun, Telegram & Gazette, October 12, 2006

LEOMINSTER— Members of the City Council said Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella can expect closer scrutiny of major funding requests and budgets after the saga surrounding cost overruns on the public library expansion.

The council voted 7-1 Tuesday to ratify the mayor’s requested loan authorization worth $1.3 million. But the wide margin of the vote belies the discontent that was visible in the council chambers over the cost of the library and the mayor’s handling of the funding request.

“I felt like I was backed into a corner and there were no options,” Councilor Dennis A. Rosa said yesterday. “We could have been more partners in this particular situation. I’m never going to be put into this position again.”

Mr. Rosa was one of several councilors who suggested alternative funding sources for the library cost overruns — including free cash — that would have paid for the overage without raising taxes.

Mr. Mazzarella pledged to councilors that he would look for alternatives but stopped short of committing to specific revenue sources. He has defended the timing of the bond authorization request, saying he asked for the permission to borrow as soon as the scope of the overrun was defined.

Library officials echoed that sentiment Tuesday, noting that only days passed between their accounting of the situation and the mayor’s petition to the council.
The bond authorization approved Tuesday night will make sure the project’s costs are covered even as alternatives are sought. Delaying the vote, Mr. Rosa explained, would have added costs associated with bonding the project.

Councilor David E. Rowlands said he was confident the mayor would seek alternative funding sources, adding the pressure from councilors makes such an effort mandatory.

“I don’t care if he wants to brag about it, just do it,” Mr. Rowlands said yesterday.

Several major capital projects loom on the horizon, such as a water filtration plant and a new police station, with a major project at Leominster High School also being discussed.

As those projects move forward, Mr. Rowlands said, the mayor can expect greater scrutiny from the councilors, who indicated frustration they were not told the scope of the library overruns until weeks before they had to vote on the borrowing authorization.

“I’m not waiting for information,” Mr. Rowlands said, referring to coming building projects. “I’m going to ask more questions to get more information.”

He said he was upset the library was 80 percent completed before the funding request was made.

“I’m going to be more proactive,” Mr. Rowlands said.

As for the library, Mr. Rowlands said the edifice would cast a large shadow in the city as future projects are debated.

“People are going to walk into this building and they’re going to say, ‘Wow,’ ” Mr. Rowlands said. “That’s good and that’s bad. It all depends on what you believe the city’s priorities are.”

Library supporters will revel in the beauty of the building, he said, while critics will see resources that could have been spent on other public buildings.

Library Director Susan T. Shelton said she understood the “wow” factor Mr. Rowlands described but defended the building and its amenities.

“We were looking to select materials and build a building that stands the test of time,” Ms. Shelton said yesterday. “It truly is a community building.”

With the council’s vote, she added, library officials can focus anew on finishing the expansion and renovation and the ongoing fundraising effort. The library, which has been operating out of rented space at Crossroads Office Park on Mechanic Street during the construction, is expected to move into the revamped downtown space in April.

Mr. Rosa voiced support for the library project but said his no vote Tuesday was a reaction to the funding mechanism. He said the issue would make him take a closer look at Mr. Mazzarella’s future financial requests.

“It’s given me more perspective on being a team player,” Mr. Rosa said yesterday. “It seems to me to be too one-sided.”

He said the mayor can expect closer scrutiny of funding requests and budgets as a result of the flap over the library.

“I think there are going to be a lot more questions,” he said.

Council President Robert A. Salvatelli said his colleagues have held Mr. Mazzarella to a high standard and would continue to do so.

“The mayor will have to earn every single vote through the merits of his proposals,” Mr. Salvatelli said, adding the mayor has done so, including the library vote. “If I had any suggestion to him it would be to communicate more.”



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