FERNDALE - City Council members are on a tight deadline to decide how to pay for $1.05 million they have committed over the past four years to a new library building.
There's a lot at stake and a lot to consider, so Mayor Gary Jensen has cleared the rest of the council's agenda for its Monday, March 4, meeting, to focus on the library.
If construction doesn't begin by the end of August, a $250,000 grant from Norcliffe Foundation for the $5 million project will be withdrawn. If the council wants to ask Ferndale voters for a property tax increase to cover the $1.05 million, it must do so next week.
Asking voters for a tax hike, with a 60 percent "yes" vote required for approval, is risky, council members said. Councilman Mel Hansen even said it's "a little bit scary."
"This is not going to be an easy decision to make," Hansen said.
The issue is further complicated by another serious issue the city is facing. The conversion to well water in December 2011 has led to hundreds of complaints to city officials about the water being too hard or having a bad taste.
"I think it's of the highest priority that we find an affordable, workable solution for the water and have that in place before we ask much else from the citizens," Councilman Jon Mutchler said. "I think they expect us to fix this before anything else."
Council members will consider water softening options in a study session before Monday's council meeting.
For the library, the council could raise the needed revenue itself, by raising property taxes, utility taxes, or the tax on the two businesses in town that collect solid waste.
The mayor will add another element to the decision by asking the council to approve a ballot measure not for $1.05 million, but for $1.5 million to $1.6 million for the library plus three smaller projects. Jensen would like to see parking at the new library expanded, a renovation of a former pizza restaurant the city owns next to City Hall, and improvements to Pioneer Pavilion.
The bond is small, Jensen said, and property owners haven't had to pay a library bond since about 1999.
Fundraising for a new library in Ferndale got off to a promising start with a $1 million anonymous donation in 2007. The city added $250,000 to a 2010 bond that would pay for police station construction. That extra money went to an architect's design of the new library, which was released in August 2011 and helped potential donors visualize what they were contributing to, said Mauri Ingram, president and CEO of the Whatcom Community Foundation. The foundation is managing library donations and grants amounting to more than $2.2 million.
The new library would go on city land near City Hall.
Monday's council meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the Community Resource Center, 5694 Second Ave.