MARION — After years of debate and false starts, Marion City Council members unanimously agreed Thursday to clear the way for public funding for a new library — an expanded space advocates argue is badly needed to meet a burgeoning demand.
Council members authorized the city staff to work with a bond lawyer and start a public notice process for issuing up to $7 million in debt to help finance the library.
The debt will cover some construction costs for the estimated $18 million project on city-owned land between the existing library at 1095 Sixth Ave. and Marion City Hall.
Other pieces to the funding puzzle include using $5 million from Marion’s local-option sales taxes, getting $3 million from the sale of the current library site and obtaining $3 million in donations and fundraising, organized by the Marion Public Library Foundation.
More than 50 people attended the council meeting Thursday, leaving standing room only, with several speaking in support of advancing the new library — for years discussed as a desired fixture in a rapidly growing community.
“I understand the reason for tabling last time,” said resident Scott Foens, referring to the council’s decision Nov. 21 to table the bond measure until all members were present. “But we really need to move forward on this now. It’s been 10 years.”
Council member Rene Gadelha told the crowd she changed her mind about the need for a public referendum, rather than council vote, on the library bond after months of “banging the gong” on the matter.
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“I apologize for taking so long to come to that conclusion, but the beauty of not having to vote until tonight was that it allowed me personally that time to do my due diligence,” she said.
Gadelha and Mayor Nick AbouAssaly both emphasized that council members all supported of the library project.
The board’s deliberations over the bond issue did not arise from support or opposition to the project but rather how the debt issuance should be decided, and by whom, AbouAssaly said.
“I know that everybody’s excited about the project, I know that there’s a lot of enthusiasm and support and passion for the project, but we can’t let that get in the way of making thoughtful, well-informed decisions,” he said.
Council member Steve Jensen said that of all residents who had spoken with him about the library project, only one said that the bond should be put to a public vote.
Delaying the vote two weeks was the “correct” decision, he added, so that all council members could be present for the vote. All members attended the Thursday meeting with the exception of council member Will Brandt, who participated by phone.
Earlier this year, project leaders abandoned a roughly 6-year-old plan to move the library into a larger space at a future mixed-use development on the site of the Marion Square Plaza strip mall.
The vote Thursday was its first step in a process to approve the bond sale, City Manager Lon Pluckhahn told The Gazette. Next, he said, council members will need to set a date for and then hold a public hearing, a process he said could wrap up in early January at the soonest.
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Pluckhahn outlined the bond’s impact on Marion’s debt service levy — the property taxes that pay off bonds, which are loans — Tuesday at a work session.
The library bond is projected to increase Marion’s debt service levy to a maximum of $2.26 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2023, up from the current $2.15, gradually decreasing to $1.91 in 2032.
Based on city calculations, Pluckhahn said, the debt will mean a maximum annual tax increase of about $12 for the owner of a home assessed at $100,000.
Construction of the 50,000-square-foot new library is planned to begin next winter, with a tentative move-in date of late summer 2022.
Marion will begin searching for a buyer of the current library in January, though the new library must be built before the city could vacate and sell its old one.
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