Exciting library plan needs budget fix

By The Gazette Editorial Board


Many people are eager for construction to begin on a new Cedar Rapids Public Library. Count us in.

Sketches of the library’s fresh look and planned features are impressive, from its large community spaces to its green roof. The $49 million facility will be a symbol of efforts to not only recover but improve Cedar Rapids for the future.

Construction is expected to begin in December and the library could open in June 2013, five years after the 2008 flood inundated its former site.

Behind all that anticipation and excitement is a nagging issue that planners, city leaders and citizens must begin addressing. When a new library opens, the city’s library system will face a sizable gap in its operating budget. An operating shortfall loomed even before the flood hit. And once staffing is ramped up to pre-flood levels to run a new library, that problem will only grow. Library Director Bob Pasicznyuk says the annual operating gap will be in the neighborhood of $1 million.

Building a new facility without accounting for its ongoing operating costs is the sort of thing that raises the ire of taxpayers. Discussions on how best to cover the gap should begin now.

There’s talk of raising the library’s property tax levy. That levy is currently set at 4 cents per $1,000 taxable property valuation, but state law allows a levy of up to 27 cents. It takes a public vote to raise the levy, and that can only occur at a municipal general election, in this case, 2011 or 2013. Library board members are concerned that a 2011 vote could get tangled with efforts to put a local-option sales tax for flood protection on the November city ballot. So 2013 is more likely. That means the new library would open before the vote.

More revenue is one option, but savings and efficiencies will be needed with or without new taxes.

Some savings ideas are already on the planning table. The library will have energy-efficient geothermal heating and cooling, along with a system that dims lights when ambient light is available. Insulated building materials and a roof covered in green plantings will save energy dollars, and reduce runoff.

The library will be constructed with removable panels and other flexible design elements to make it easier and less costly to upgrade technology in the future. Pasicznyuk said planned technology will help the library use its staffing more efficiently.

Yet more must be done. Encouraging more library supporters, for example, to also donate to an operations fund could be considered.

With creativity and forethought, the gap can be closed.

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