Posts belonging to Category Keller Library

Library O’ Doom

I received an email from Jim Maine last night.  He’s a local watchdog who runs the ourKeller website.  It seems that the city council voted last night to proceed with plans to issue $8.5 million in bonds for a new library (registration required, has Firefox-circumventing pop-ups).

With a 4-to-1 vote Tuesday night, City Council members said they intend to issue $8.5 million in bonds for the project without asking for voters’ approval. The council will vote again on Dec. 20 to actually issue the library bonds and another $270,000 in non-voter-approved bonds that would pay for new police cars, a dump truck and a street paving machine.

Councilman Mitch Homes voted against the plan saying the decision should be made by voters.

Residents who attended the meeting criticized the council after the vote, also saying the controversial issue should be put to voters. If the council decides in December to issue the bonds, Jim Maine said he will circulate a petition that would force the issue to a public election.

I have written about this topic previously.  I think this is something big enough that it should go to the voters, especially since they have previously rejected plans for a new library. 

Depending on the current budget state of the city, it may be possible to issue bonds and repay them without affecting the tax rate (I recall the city manager saying at one point that some early debt payoff had left room for further bond expansion¹), but I’m skeptical of it.  But aside from the bond issue, there’s the issue of ongoing staffing and support.  This new library will require staff to run it, and it will have ongoing maintenance and operational costs.  At this time we can’t afford to keep the existing library open for extended hours.  How do they think we’re going to pay for these ongoing costs without raising taxes?  Further, we have fire and police positions that are unstaffed (at least they were the last time I checked).  Until we have full fire and police coverage it seems irresponsible to me to be building and staffing a new library.

¹ I’m not sure where I got this from.  The city manager came to the Citizen’s Police Academy one night and gave a presentation on the city budget, but a quick scan of the 2005 city budget doesn’t show anything like this.  Perhaps I was on drugs at the time?  cool hmm

The Library Thing

Of late there has been quite a bit of public discussion and back-and-forth over whether the City of Keller should replace or upgrade the current public library.  Several years before I moved here a proposal for a new library (at a cost of approximately $10 million) was put before the voters and soundly rejected.  The current proposals are to either expand the existing library (at a cost of approximately $7 million) or build a new one in Keller Town Center (at a cost of approximately $8 million).  (A little background can be found in this recent opinion piece.)

There are several things about this whole “debate” that irk me, but let me start with the top one.  The proponents of the new library want the city council to “just do it” and approve issuing bonds to build a new library.  The council is making noises about sending it to the voters for approval.  I had an interesting discussion with one of the supporters who said that she was going to work against the reelection of any council member who voted to call an election on the issue.  I was a bit stunned to hear this.  Her rationale was that the opponents of the library would be able to influence the public campaign too well and the supporters would lose an election.  It seems odd to me to deny the public a voice in something this big.  The other rationale that the supporters use is that the council voted for bonds to fund the new City (Taj ma)Hall and several other large projects without voter input.  It seems to me that instead of decrying sending the library for a vote they should be decrying the fact that the council didn’t send the other issues for a vote.  If anything, I’d be inclined to vote against any council member that decided to spend that kind of money without a vote.

The second thing that bugs me is that I think the supporters of the library are being disingenuous by claiming that a new library in Town Center would help drive new business there.  It turns out that this is related to a serious problem brought about by the city council in previous years when they decided to create the Town Center using a special taxing district.  Unfortunately (for us), their grand scheme of emulating Southlake has failed, leaving the city with the potential for having to make up all those unrealized tax revenues.  Anyhow, I’m not sure how they expected to build an upscale shopping experience around a freakin’ Tom Thumb.  It’s basically a strip shopping center with a nice façade and an integrated overall look, but not much more.  There are some basic things over there that I use, but nothing that couldn’t be found elsewhere.  In fact, I find the place a bit hard to navigate because of the traffic flow patterns (and the insane drivers who tear through there).

Frankly, I just don’t see how a library would drive much new business to the existing stores, other than perhaps slightly increasing traffic for Starbucks or the BankOne.  But even if they are right, it seems dubious to me that it would be enough to help, considering the size of the problem.

The special taxing district needs an $81 million property value increase by 2007 to pay off debt used to build roads and the Town Hall.

That gives us two years to come up with $81 million in property development.  A library just isn’t going to do that.  Further, the amount of crap that a company has to go through to build a new business in Keller will make it difficult to get even a tenth of that amount in new development.

But in the interest of fairness I tried to find some information on expected economic impacts of libraries.  Unfortunately, all I could find were cheerleading articles and studies that were started with the premise that a library had a positive economic impact.  I didn’t find anything that I trusted as being a scientific impartial study of the real impact of a library (it’s interesting that the first study I found claimed that this would actually be impossible, so they just went with surveying the users of libraries).

Here’s what a quick Google search turned up:

Some other links on the issue:

The third point the proponents of the new library keep putting forth is that it won’t increase our taxes.  I haven’t had much time to research this issue, but I’m concerned about this claim, as it seems dubious.  Bonds have to be paid back as debt service out of our taxes.  This means that the city has to budget for this somehow.  It seems dangerous to me to take on more debt at a time when there is a high potential for a tremendous shortfall in revenues in the near term, and while basic city services (fire, police) are not fully funded.

Until someone can show me an unbiased scientific study (i.e. not one of the studies above) showing positive business impacts of a new library, I am going to remain sceptical.