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Thursday, March 17, 2016

The New Point Roberts Library

Earlier this year, the Friends of the Point Roberts Public Library announced that they had raised slightly over $538,000 for the new library.  (Full disclosure: I am the chair of that Fundraising Committee.) The amount was set by the original feasibility study for the new building.  The New Library Project is a joint endeavor of the Friends of the Library, the Park and Recreation District, and the Whatcom County Library System, each party having critical roles.

Over the past 4+ years, this project has proceeded under an agreement known as a "Memorandum of Understanding" that defines each group's responsibilities.  It was revised and signed by all three parties in October 2014.  It has the status of a legal contract.  Here's what it says:

1.  The Friends will try to raise $538,000 for the new library;
2.  The Park and Recreation District will make the Julius Fire Hall available for use as a new library;  and
3. The Whatcom County Library System will, when the Julius Fire Hall space is ready,  provide all furnishings, equipment, and human resources to make it a functioning library, as well as to pay for utilities for the building;

In addition, the Park District is required to raise any additional funds needed, should there be a gap between the funds raised by the Friends and the final costs for the renovation/reconstruction of the Julius Fire Hall.  The District may do this from its regular funding, or it may put a levy on the ballot to allow the voters to approve or disapprove the necessary gap funding.

Although the Friends have raised the initially-required funds, the intervening years have inevitably led to higher costs.  In this instance, the Park District does not have sufficient funds of its own to fund that gap.  Thus, they must place a levy on the ballot in order to determine whether the voters support a one-year increase in property taxes to bring the library to completion.

On March 9, the District held a special meeting to assess public support for this project.  Despite very unpleasant weather, 40 people turned out for the meeting.  All were invited to speak, although not everyone did.  Support for the levy was almost unanimous from those who spoke.  On March 14, at the Park District's regular monthly meeting, by contrast, Chairman Linda Hughes voiced her absolute opposition to placing a levy on the ballot, despite the Memorandum of Understanding's plain language.

It was like having U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell come to Point Roberts to point out that he had no plan to do his job to have a vote on a Supreme Court nominee because he doesn't like Obama.  As a result, the remainder of the meeting was largely a shambles with NO forward motion on the project. A month lost when what the Commissioners need to be doing is determining which optional elements to include in the design, deciding the size of the levy, and setting a time-line for completing the paperwork to get the levy on the November ballot.

The design of the building has largely been set since the beginning of the project when there were several public meetings to get a general consensus about its suitability.  The model (built by Alex Tersakian) has been on view for several years; all of the Friends' public materials have included photos of it.  That is the library that we have been raising money for;  that is the library that we need to get built.

The Park District has a suggestion box in the main hallway at the community center.  Perhaps you might like to offer your views.  Maybe tell them to "Do your job; put the library levy on the ballot."  You can also comment on this blog, or on the Friends' blog, which also includes a fuller description of the two meetings.  I will forward all comments on either blog to the Commissioners.  They need to hear from you.

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