Aurora council approves tax increase for library improvements

A new $27 million downtown library and $3 million worth of library technology improvements are coming to Aurora.

If the 23 residents who spoke before the vote at Tuesday night's city council meeting are any indication of public sentiment, an upgraded library system is something most in Aurora support.

An 8-3 city council vote with Alderman Rick Mervine abstaining approved the sale of $30 million in bonds and a tax increase to fund the library project.

Aurora Public Library board member John Savage said the plan calls for two satellite locations, technology including kiosks to check out and download materials remotely and a greater emphasis on providing resources to Aurora schools.

Property taxes will increase an average of $26 a year for 30 years for a home valued at $180,000.

But the library will be fundraising and seeking grants, and pledged to use any money received to lessen the city's tax burden.

Alderman Lynda Elmore, who voted in favor of the tax increase and sale of bonds, said she plans to hold the library accountable to its promise to provide updates every six months until the new building is complete and new technology is up and running.

The new library will be a 92,000-square-foot structure at the corner or River and Benton streets, projected to be complete by late 2014.

Mayor Tom Weisner said during his state of the city address he supports the library's plan to transform into a “state of the art digital information system.”

Speakers such as West Aurora School District 129 Superintendent James Rydland said they were satisfied with process of developing the plan.

“We're pleased to see that this is future-focused and technologically driven,” Rydland said.

While almost all speakers voiced support for the library's plans, resident Lisa Heinz questioned whether now is the right time to undertake such an expensive building initiative.

Kevin Mathews, who made an unsuccessful bid for alderman-at-large in 2011, said technology, not space, is what people need to work together and learn.

Aldermen Rick Lawrence, Stephanie Kifowit and Al Lewandowski voted against the sale of bonds and the tax increase. Lawrence said the project could have been improved through more collaboration with technology companies and emphasis on building something to make Aurora stand out, he added.

Lawrence said some factors of the plan, such as the building's square footage and cost, were predetermined before cooperation began, which Assistant Chief of Staff Chuck Nelson of Weisner's office said was not the case.

“We've done all this talk and all this collaboration and all this supposed tech, but we still have a third floor that we don't even know what we're doing (with),” Lawrence said. “We're not finished yet. I'm not one of these people that just say ‘OK, go ahead and build it and we'll figure it out later,' and that's what we do a lot of here in Aurora.”

Part of the third floor, about 5,000 square feet, is set aside as future programming space, but the library will seek a separate bid to determine the cost of fully building out that space right away, Savage said.

According to finance director Brian Caputo, property taxes to support library improvements are set to increase beginning with 2012 taxes payable in 2013.

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