My Turn Paul C. Jablon: Disappointed in Greenfield councilors

  • Paul Jablon

  • Greenfield Public Library on Main Street. December 17, 2018 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 1/6/2019 10:01:09 AM

I grew up with the belief, and still believe, that the backbone of our country is that we are to be a representative democracy. I certainly thought that, at least at a local level, our city councilors represented the views and values of the constituents who elected them.

Therefore, I was most disappointed when I heard various councilors at the Dec. 19 council meeting expressing their own wants for Greenfield rather than the will of the people who elected them.

The councilors have reported that for the past three months they have received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls that are about 25 to 1 in favor of building the new library. They’ve also reported that this is an astounding amount of correspondence for any city plan and that this level of overwhelming support is extremely rare. Of the first 27 neighbors I asked if they were in favor of a new library even if taxes would go up about a dollar a week, 26 said “yes” and signed the petition. Some were elderly, some couldn’t always pay their rent or mortgage on time, some had young children, and none were rich. They are a reasonable cross-section of Greenfield.

Since an informational meeting on Dec. 13, which was attended by at least 400 people, and because of stories in this paper, our citizenry has been very well informed on both the reasons for a new library and the financial situation that requires it. It is fiscally irresponsible for any councilor not to vote for this library now. It is fairly straightforward. In order to bring the current library up to mandated accessibility standards, and to code, it will cost Greenfield $7 million to $8 million, which will make it a smaller usable space without the additional services provided by a new building.

A new library, using the $9.4 million state grant, would cost the city government $8 million to $10 million. The councilors have had this information as it was all considered in putting the grant application together five years ago. The citizens understand that this money will be borrowed at the same time other debt will be retired; making it unlikely taxes will go up. If they do go up because of the library loan, it will be for only two years, then go down for the following five years as other debt is retired. Even if the new library is $10 million, the difference between keeping the old library and having to bring it to code, or getting the vastly improved services and size of the new library is a difference of 27 cents per person per week.

For the poorest folks in town they would pay little or nothing for the new library, with the average homeowner paying at most about $1.25 a week, less than the price of a cup of coffee. All studies have shown that the poorest people benefit the most from a city’s library, as they often can’t afford books, internet, or any of the other many wonderful services that the library provides. The richest people in town will pay the most for the new library and any councilor who says that they speak for the poor working class has an obligation to vote in favor. 

Before the new library was designed, the building committee spent over a year surveying citizens about needs that were not being met by our current library. Much more space is required to create substantial study and work space, meet the needs of teens, nurture children’s programs, and facilitate limited mobility access. The new library design fulfills these needs, but is already a diminished version of the original plan. Any councilor who wants an even smaller building is simply ignoring the wants and needs of their citizens. 

I have personally spoken to hundreds of residents and they understand the physical design needs of a 21st century library. They also understand the financial ability of our city budget to pay for it. They have written to councilors who say we cannot afford to do this, and told them that we cannot afford not to do this.

Like I said, it is fiscally irresponsible to vote against a new library. If  councilors can’t represent the will of their constituents, they should step down. After all, those of us who voted for you did so with the belief, that at least here in Greenfield, we are still a representative democracy.

When the overwhelming majority of your well informed constituents are in favor of something, it is your duty to represent their will in good faith with how you vote.

Paul Jablon is a Greenfield resident.


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