They have blueprints in hand and land to build on. Now officials need $3.8 million from voters to pay for a new Bonner County library.
The debate over whether the county needs a new facility or should make due with its outdated, cramped downtown building has raged for more than a decade.
Tuesday, residents will finally get to vote on the issue.
Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. To pass, the proposed 10-year levy needs to garner 55 percent or more of the vote.
“People are going to argue it’s too much money, but I feel we have put together the most reasonable package for the best value,” said library board member Ted Bowers.
“Some have questioned our motives, but we are committed to giving this district the best quality library for the most value. That’s it.”
Critics have emerged over the last two weeks, saying the planned library is too expensive and too fancy. One group has taken out radio ads urging people to vote down the project.
Others have objected to the wording on the levy ballot, saying it gives library officials too much latitude in spending the money.
“I understand we can’t do much with the current library and we need a new one, but this is a poor county and it’s too much money,” said opponent Lawrence Fury.
He said the design for the new central library looks like something that belongs in California, not North Idaho.
“It’s too fancy. We could build a concrete box that would serve the same needs for a lot less,” he said. “We need a cheaper, more reasonable plan at about half the price.”
The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $25 per year.
The library isn’t the only big-ticket item being pitched that has residents worried about higher taxes. Two other levies will go before voters in the next few months: The county wants a new jail for about $5 million; and the school district is asking for a couple of million more.
“It’s the cumulative effect people are worried about,” Fury said. “We may need all these things, but we can’t afford them.”
Library officials expected some opposition, but are irritated with those who claim the project has been railroaded through without enough public input.
It has been just the opposite, Bowers said. Public meetings started more than a year ago, some were televised and the community was asked for ideas on the building design.
A meeting last week to answer questions and talk about the proposal drew only one person.
“We have made every effort to make this a public process,” Bowers said. “Those who come up with objections at the last minute are not interested in asking pertinent questions but in seeing the levy fail.”
The current library has outdated electrical and heating systems and about 8,000 square feet of usable space. The proposed building is 24,700 square feet and include computer rooms, a children’s reading room, study areas and meeting rooms. It will be within walking distance of five schools.
The library board also split up the construction phases of the proposed building. That will allow local contractors to bid on the jobs and compete with larger contractors that specialize in public works projects.
“We have done everything we can and the levy is going to sink or swim on it’s own merit,” Bowers said.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ELECTION Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. To pass, the levy needs 55 percent or more of the vote. Residents within the library district, which excludes Priest River and Priest Lake, can vote at the Clark Fork City Hall, Sandpoint Community Hall, Ponderay City Hall, Sagle Elementary School, Westmond Grange and Laclede Community Hall.