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Mayor’s no-tax impact analysis hasn’t shifted library votes, yet

  • Greenfield Public Library STAFF FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Friday, January 11, 2019

GREENFIELD — The mayor’s financial analysis showing a new library will not increase the city’s tax rate doesn’t seem to have shifted City Council support for the project, so far.

Currently there are seven councilors who are on the record saying they are a “yes” on the $19.5 million library, which will cost taxpayers about $10.1 million. If the council waits to vote on the library until the Precinct 2 seat is filled, as City Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud has said she plans to do but will likely not happen until February, then there are still two more of the six remaining councilors who would need to vote for the project. 

When asked where they stood following the information from Mayor William Martin and his finance team this week, only one councilor said he is a firm “no” at the moment: Precinct 1 Councilor Verne Sund, who library supporters once saw as a swing vote. 

“The way things are happening, with the nasty people that are calling for the ‘yes,’ I don’t think I can vote ‘yes’,” Sund said. “As far as taxes not going up, I talked to a lot of people, and they said, ‘What? Is the mayor going to pay my extra taxes?” 

He did not feel confident in the mayor’s assertion that the library will have no impact on the tax rate. “It’s hard to believe that all of a sudden the taxes won’t go up,” Sund said. 

The mayor’s office announced Wednesday that $8 million in current borrowing authority can be applied to the library, mostly because of $7.5 million unused from the parking garage project paid with a state grant. He said while taxes might rise for other reasons, the rate won’t go up because of the library. 

“Go around and talk to the people that are really low income and ask them about their taxes going up, because that’s where I get my information from along with the papers,” Sund said. “I have to go with what they have to say.” 

At-Large Councilor Isaac Mass also was not convinced by the mayor’s latest numbers.

“Of course his statements are totally speculative and don’t bear up under most scrutiny,” Mass said. 

Of his vote on the library, Mass said, “I have not made a final decision, but the mayor said nothing new.” 

Similarly, Precinct 3 Councilor Brickett Allis said, “At this time I do not believe it would be prudent for me to state my position as the issue is still before the council for action.” 

Both Mass and Allis have been open critics of the library.

Precinct 4 Councilor Wanda Pyfrom, who said in December meeting she didn’t favor the new library, said this week “at this time I do not want to commit to anything ,as I am still deciding.” 

Precinct 9 Councilor Dan Leonovich was unavailable for comment before press time. Leonovich sided with Mass, Allis, Pyfrom, Sund and then-Precinct 2 Councilor John Lobik against a procedural delay in December, a motion which was made by Precinct 6 Councilor Sheila Gilmour. Ultimately it was tabled and it can only come back to the council if a majority agrees to take it off the table for a vote. 

Those who have supported the library continued their steadfastness for the prospect of a 26,800-square-foot project, which would be built adjacent to the current 15,300-square-foot library located in the historic Leavitt-Hovey House, which was built in 1797 and incorporated as the town’s library in 1908. 

The new library would be fully accessible, which is a shortcoming  of the current building. There are different plans with what to do with that town-owned building, including selling it to a local business, which could help pay for the project. To build a new library, the current fire station would have to move, which is a point of concern for residents who worry whether building these two projects at the same time could cause a potential strain on the taxpayers. 

“I do believe we as a council have the work we need to make a decision,” At-Large Councilor Ashli Stempel, the chairwoman of Ways and Means the past year, said. “At this point any obstruction is grandstanding and blatant disregard to the future of my hometown.” 

Stempel said she has had recent discussions with town managers in South Hadley and Athol, both with relatively new libraries. She said she’s learned from the conversations that people in town attribute these libraries to economic growth in town. She emphasized this is an important public good to invest in. 

Precinct 8 Councilor Doug Mayo said he was “certainly glad to hear” the information from the mayor’s office, but does plan on looking into the financial figures in the coming days. 

“That was a really good gesture on his part to do that,” Mayo said, noting the potential ‘no’ votes on the council typically talk about this project as not financially feasible, but these numbers counter that argument. 

“With the city’s balance sheet where it is, building now is the fiscally responsible thing to do,” Precinct 7 Councilor Otis Wheeler said. 

Gilmour confirmed she can still be counted for a “yes.”

Council Vice President Penny Ricketts, an at-large member, said she is a “yes” at the moment, although she still would like to see if the building can be reduced in size.

“This is not a time for anger or treating those who feel differently in a negative way,” Ricketts said. “This is a great opportunity and we have so much work to do. The budget is coming up and we have an entire city to look after.”

“In my opinion voting “yes” makes sense whether you’re fiscally conservative or not,” Renaud said. 

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264