Aurora library funding plan generates debate

When the Aurora Public Library gained approval in April of $30 million in city bond funding to finance a new main library, satellite locations and technology improvements, library board members promised all grant money they receive would be used to pay back the city and lessen the tax burden on residents.

As the city council Tuesday night began considering the sale of bonds, library board member John Savage told aldermen the library is eligible for up to $10.8 million in state grant funding from the secretary of state’s office.

“We’re extremely excited about what that will do for this project,” Savage said. “It will help fund it, help alleviate the burden on the taxpayers.”

The library proposes putting most, but not all, of the grant money — $7.6 million — toward library construction, while the other $3.2 million would pay for technology and operating costs of two planned satellite locations. If the grant money comes through, this allocation would decrease the bonds the city must sell to $22.4 million and cut the tax burden on the average Aurora homeowner from an extra $26 a year to an extra $20 a year for 30 years, Savage said.

But some aldermen are crying foul, asking why the library has reneged on its pledge to use all grants to decrease by as much as possible the bond sale and accompanying tax increase forwarded to Aurora residents.

Alderman Al Lewandowski was the first to question why the library does not intend to put the entire grant toward the city’s debt.

“Why won’t all the money from the grant be used for construction costs?” he asked.

Savage said decreasing home values are lowering the amount of property tax revenue the library brings in each year, so part of the grant funding will be necessary just to complete all aspects of the improvement plan approved in April.

“To me, the taxpayers should get it back,” Lewandowski said about the grant funding. “If you don’t have the money for it, you can’t do it.”

Alderman Rick Lawrence said the library’s plan for the prospective grant effectively increases the cost of the new building, satellite locations and technology upgrades.

“We just raised the cost of this project significantly,” Lawrence said. “You were really specific that any grants were to pay off the debt first, not go do more library projects.”

Savage said the library is not looking to do more.

“We’re looking not to pay ourselves back but to fund the satellites and technology we proposed,” Savage said. “We’re not looking to do more; we’re looking to do what we committed to.”

Library officials are, however, dependent on city approval of the sale of $22.4 million in bonds for the state grant to be finalized.

“We need to have the dollars in place in order to close this final step of the grant application,” Savage said.

Alderman Mike Saville said the city would be passing up “a great opportunity” if aldermen do not approve the bond sale. He commended the library for shrinking the scope of its building plans from 125,000 square feet to 92,000 square feet and for seeking the grant to cut costs.

The city council is scheduled to vote on library bonds at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11, in city hall, 44 E. Downer Place.

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