Greenfield library may go to a special election but Councilor Mass pushes for Nov. vote

  • The Greenfield City Council voted in March to approve a deal for a new library and commercial zoning changes. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 5/6/2019 10:46:00 PM

GREENFIELD — City Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud is exploring the idea of holding a special election in late June to decide once and for all whether the public wants a new $19.5 million public library, instead of letting it go to the polls in November at the mayoral election.

Renaud’s proposal may be dead in the water before it comes before Greenfield Committee Chairs tonight for discussion. The decision on whether to hold a special election could be brought before the full council later this month for a vote, if the committee is so inclined — but Renaud may not have the votes on the council to achieve her goal.

Last month resident and former councilor Steve Ronhave submitted a citizen’s referendum petition that calls for the council to take back its March vote on a new public library. If the council approves the library again, it will send the issue to a citywide vote at either a special election or the next regular election, which is commonly interpreted as the November mayoral election. If the council does not approve the library again, the bid for the new library would be over.

The wrinkle in the plan comes from At-Large Councilor Isaac Mass, who crafted the grand deal of a library-for-zoning earlier this year with Renaud. Mass was the crucial ninth vote to approve the library’s funding in March.

“With the zoning safe, I have not yet indicated how I’m going to vote on the library,” Mass said. “It’s coming before us again. It needs nine votes. I’m the ninth vote. If it’s going to be a special election, I may not vote on it.”

Mass objected to the cost of holding a special election, which he noted as in the ballpark of $10,000 to $12,000.

“I see no reason why we should be spending money on a special election where we’re talking about laying off teachers,” Mass said, referring to a Greenfield Public Schools budget that could lay off 15 to 20 employees this month if its not funded by the council following a reduction proposed by the mayor.

The outgoing councilor also objected to the timing of the special election in late June.

“It appears this is an attempt to do the election when there is a less voter turnout,” Mass said.

For an election like this to be deemed binding, it would need a turnout of 25 percent of the city’s voters. Mass said he wouldn’t want to see the city pay for holding a special election and having to send it to the general election anyway.

“The issue is so hot and on people’s minds, I think we could get a good turnout if we went that route,” Renaud said Monday. “I just don’t know if that’s the right way to go.”

Renaud did not comment on Mass’ suggestion that he may not vote to allow for the special election to move forward, if that’s the path she pushes ahead.

She said one of the reasons to suggest the council move the vote to a special election is financial. Library backers note the cost of construction continues to rise and that would be more expensive than a special election.

“Nothing is final yet, but we have to look at all options,” Renaud said. “The sooner we know whether or not we can accept this library grant, the better.”

The $9.4 million state library grant has been secured, but if the city decides to not go forward with the project, it will have to return the first payment of the money it receives plus interest.

Some library insiders suggest construction costs could rise by hundreds of thousands of dollars between July and November.

“I don’t buy that three months will make the difference,” Mass said.

He added that it’s unlikely the city will begin construction on the library during the winter months.

The City Council will also be faced with a funding question on the new fire station later this month during the budget vote.

The legislative body will be asked to approve $550,000 for hiring the architect and engineering firms to develop plans for the new fire station, which is slated to be built at the Beacon and Riddell streets site.

Mass said he may not vote to approve this funding for the fire station until he knows what’s going on with the library. The new library will have to be built on the grounds of the current fire station, which the department’s chief has said needs to be replaced.

Renaud is still hesitant of requesting a special election. She said the Clerk’s Office is understaffed and it could be too much work to hold a special election in such a short turn around.

The Clerk’s Office said Monday it would take at least four weeks to prepare for a special election, including the registration of voters, finding a polling place and hiring staff to work the polls, all during budget season.

The council president did not feel that a special election would cheapen the process that has been controversial from the get-go.

“I’m just trying to make sure everyone’s voice is heard going into this process,” Renaud said.

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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