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Bloomington City Council supports using $17 million in bonds to help fund library expansion

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Michele Steinbacher
/
WGLT
The Bloomington City Council meets Monday, Nov. 8, 2021, at the Downtown Government Center.

A proposed $23 million expansion of the Bloomington Public Library is closer to becoming a reality, with the Bloomington City Council on Monday voting overwhelmingly to support the library board’s plan to use $17 million in bonds to finance most of the project.

The council voted 7-2 in favor of the plan. Council members Sheila Montney of Ward 3 and Nick Becker of Ward 5 voted "no."

The financing plan next comes up Nov. 22, as part of the city council’s property tax levy discussion. The city’s entire tax levy is expected to be adopted following a public hearing on Dec. 13. State law requires the city to issue the bonds on behalf of the library, located at 205 E. Olive Street.

Besides the bonds, the expansion will be funded with about $4 million in library reserves, and $1.75 million in donations, according to BPL's marketing manager, Rhonda Massie.

The plan has been in the works for nearly a decade.

The proposal calls for about $17 million of the project to be funded through bonds, and the related debt service through a property tax levy. Over the next 20 years, that’s expected to cost $1.1 million annually.

The levy increase would translate to about $30 more in annual property taxes for the owner of a $165,000 home, based on preliminary equalized assessed value (EAV) figures for 2021, according to council materials.

Council member Jeff Crabill of Ward 8 said while the city’s attention to sewers over the past few months focused on “hard infrastructure,” investing in the library represents “people infrastructure.” It’s a matter of quality of life in the community, he said. Even as proposed, the expanded BPL would be smaller than libraries in Champaign and Decatur, cities with population sizes comparable to Bloomington.

“If we don’t provide avenues to improve the lives of people in our community, what are the new roads and sewers going to matter?” he asked.

Council member Tom Crumpler of Ward 9 said he’d heard a variety of views from constituents — some supporting the library plan, and others saying this isn't the best time for such spending.

But on Monday, he noted he stood confidently behind his “yes” vote. The current proposal is scaled back about $14 million from the original version, and the fact that BPL is contributing money from its own savings “signals fiscal responsibility and the willingness to manage a realistic project,” he said.

Like others supporting the plan, Crumpler pointed to the current climate’s low interest rates. “It’s an opportunity for us to invest in our community, and I think we should take it,” he said.

Montney and Becker both said they opposed the expansion because of the taxpayer cost. Montney said while most council members praised the merits of the library during Monday’s discussion, that wasn’t the issue. She contends the focus should have been on stewardship of taxpayer funds, of which she doesn’t think this is a good one.

“Not doing this project doesn’t take away the ability to use the library,” added Becker.

About a dozen residents made public comments about the proposed expansion, with the majority speaking in support of the plan.

Police contract

In another matter, the council voted unanimously, and with no discussion, to approve a three-year collective bargaining agreement with the Bloomington Police Department union.

The total compounded increase in salaries will be about $1.4 million.

There will be a 2.5% increase over each year’s previous pay amounting to $224,630 for fiscal year 2021 salaries; $230,360 in FY22; and $236,640 in FY23.

Gleason said the contract also offers bonuses to bilingual officers, updates vacation policies, and it reiterates the BPD policy prohibiting officers from using marijuana.

The city’s previous agreement with the union expired in April 2020, but police have been working under a tentative agreement, according to the council materials.

In other business, the council approved:

  • The $766,000 purchase of a new fire engine for the Bloomington Fire Department, to be based at Station 6.
  • Approved the final plat of OSF Healthcare Systems addition to Medical Hills Subdivision, north of Washington Street and to the west and south of St. Joseph Drive.  
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