FERNDALE - After more than six years of fundraising, the last contribution to a new library might come from the city's voters.
The City Council unanimously approved on Monday, March 4, a request to go before voters for a $550,000 bond for the library. If the bond is approved by 60 percent or more of the voters on April 23, then that amount, plus a partial match from an anonymous donor, will cover the $810,000 still needed to build a new library on Main Street, near City Hall.
The owner of a $250,000 home would pay $11.86 a year in additional property taxes.
Separately, the council must decide how to raise the $1.05 million it has committed to the library project since 2009. Likely sources include increases in water and sewer taxes, an increase to the solid waste tax or a council-approved property tax hike. The council will make that decision at a later meeting.
Mayor Gary Jensen had proposed a larger bond request of about $1.5 million for the library and three small construction projects, including renovation of Pioneer Pavilion. The council opted for a bond request that would be simpler to explain to voters.
"This one's going to be easy to promote," council member Mel Hansen said. "It's a buck a month" in new property taxes.
Council member Keith Olson came up with the proposal that garnered unanimous approval.
"Let them vote for it," Olson said. "There's all this community support for a library."
Close to $3 million has been raised through donations and grants, said Mauri Ingram, president and CEO of Whatcom Community Foundation.
The 15,000-square-foot library will cost about $6 million, including the value of the land donated by the city. Construction must begin in August, or the city will lose a $250,000 grant from the nonprofit Norcliffe Foundation.
Council members passed on an opportunity to divert approximately $175,000 left over from police station construction to the library. The money would have been fully matched by the anonymous donor, bringing the total contribution to $350,000. Instead, the council voted 5-2 to commit the $175,000 to any road or building project except the library. Council members Lloyd Zimmerman and Cathy Watson were opposed.
"Why would you give up a chance of turning 175 into 350?" Watson said, arguing the minority position.
Hansen said the money left over from the police station could go instead toward Pioneer Pavilion, a larger parking lot for the new library or renovation of the "pizza annex," a former restaurant next to City Hall that the city would like to convert into a meeting hall. The city also has a lot of roads that need to be repaired, council member Brent Goodrich said.
The obvious hitch in the plan, council members say, is that the voters might reject the bond. It's possible the city could then miss the August construction deadline, and the project could be put off two or three years, Hansen said.
Rejection of the bond could be perceived as a message from voters that they're not yet ready for a new library, Mutchler said.
"The 24th of April is an interesting day, because if (the bond) does not get the 60.1 percent that it needs, council will need to do some deep soul searching," Mutchler said.