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Library funding will be decided by voters

WILBRAHAM Facing a Jan. 7, 2006 deadline to accept a $2.6 million state grant to renovate and expand the Wilbraham Public Library, Wilbraham Selectmen voted last week to set the dates for voters to consider funding the required local share of the project cost.

The Board called a Special Town Meeting for Tuesday, Nov. 29 beginning at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of Minnechaug Regional High School, with Nov. 30 as a backup in case of inclement weather. There will also be a ballot vote for a debt exclusion to the property tax levy limit on Saturday, Dec. 10 from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the regular polling places.

In July, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners awarded the grant to Wilbraham as one of seven projects eligible for immediate funding out of 41 applicants statewide.

The award was based on the quality of Wilbraham's application and the demonstrated need for the $8.2 million project. Wilbraham's Library Trustees are pursuing $1.1 million in private fund-raising, leaving a projected $4.5 million balance required from town funding. The project would expand the library facility on Crane Park Drive from 13,000 to 29,391 square feet.

Kevin J. Moriarty, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, commended the Library Trustees and staff for their work on this project.

"Town Meeting already voted twice to support development of this proposal and the Library Trustees and staff have done an outstanding job in carrying out that mandate," Moriarty said. "It was one of a handful of projects selected by the state for immediate funding, a tribute to the quality of the application itself and the demonstrated need for the project. We are proud to bring it before the voters for their consideration."

Moriarty noted that the library had seen major changes since its construction in 1968.

"In 1968 our circulation was under 75,000, while it was 226,000 in 2004. In 1968 5,272 people held library cards, while 10,839 hold cards today. Today we squeeze computers, videos and DVDs in a building constructed to hold books and magazines. Our total collection was 23,180 items in 1968, while today it is 80,275."

He continued, "Some people have suggested that the Internet made libraries obsolete. It is hard to square that notion with a circulation that has gone from 75,000 to 226,000. On the contrary, the library is a central part of the community's educational system, providing learning opportunities for all generations."

The town's approval will depend on two votes: the Nov. 29 Special Town Meeting will consider appropriating the local share and authorizing the town to borrow over a period of 20 years in support of that appropriation. If approved by two-thirds of the voters present, the appropriation will be contingent on majority approval of a Dec. 10 ballot vote authorizing the town to increase property taxes above the levy limit to support debt service costs on the project.

The debt service costs will peak in the third year of the bond, at that point adding about $95 to the annual property tax bill for the average home. The cost and resulting tax impact then gradually declines over the life of the borrowing to $50 in the twentieth and final year of the bond.

"Because significant outside funding has been secured and this project is ready to go now, its cost impact will be declining before other major projects under consideration could go forward. Therefore we urge voters to consider this project on its own merits and not in competition with other projects," Moriarty added.