Baraboo Common Council members agreed Tuesday to seek a loan that would fund part of a public library expansion in 2021.
The motion came from council member Phil Wedekind. Members agreed 8-1, with Scott Sloan as the single vote against the proposal.
Baraboo Public Library Director Jessica Bergin said Wednesday the council’s decision to seek a $6 million loan for the library expansion was a relief.
“I appreciate what a difficult decision that was for the city to make,” Bergin said. “I’ve always said both projects are worthwhile.”
Another significant city project vying for funding is a proposed new Baraboo fire and EMS station. Baraboo Fire Chief Kevin Stieve outlined his department’s needs and sought prioritization.
Ultimately, the council chose to pursue the library project first, aided by funds and planning already completed for the facility.
To complete its planned $10.4 million expansion and renovation, the library still will have to raise about $2.5 million. During the last two decades, the library has raised $1.5 million for the expansion and spent about $700,000 on project planning. It also has $750,000 in reserves intended for expansion of the library.
Bergin said a fundraising group will be formed that “will certainly” take on help from community supporters. There are plans to seek different types of grants, Bergin said, like a Community Block Development Program grant, adding that library representatives already have discussed applying for up to $1 million in additional grant funding.
“We are definitely going to pursue all the grants that we can,” Bergin said.
She noted significant community support for the project, including people who have attended council meetings to advocate for the library, which has not been renovated since 1982 and was built at the beginning of the last century.
The project would increase the building’s size by 22,000 square feet and remodel 14,000 square feet of the current facility. Part of the $700,000 spent on initial projects included procuring the building to its immediate east, which houses Dane County Title Co. While the building has served as a source of revenue for the library, it will be razed to make the expansion possible.
About 50 people attended the Tuesday meeting, a number of them wearing T-shirts in support of the library. About 10 people got up to speak in favor of expansion, including a 13-year-old homeschooled resident, as well as educators and residents spanning different ages.
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‘Need to prioritize’
Financial concerns dragged out the decision about whether the library should move forward. During its previous meeting, the council raised concerns about nearing the debt limit capacity imposed by the state, which is 5% of the city’s annual new development. The city has its own policy of not exceeding 60% of that figure.
City Finance Director Cynthia Haggard compiled a “What if?” analysis that used rough numbers to compile the financial impact on homeowners if the debt limit were to be increased by funding for the library expansion, a proposed new fire and EMS station, or both.
Sloan remained critical of increasing city debt above its self-imposed capacity limit.
“There is definitely no chance we’re building both, this year or next year,” Sloan said. “We do need to prioritize.”
Haggard said the average home value in the city is slightly more than $149,000. City property taxes would increase $158 in 2022 for a home valued at $147,300 if the city were to take on a loan at $6 million at 3.5% interest for the library expansion project, Haggard said.
Stieve asked to speak on behalf of the fire department and its need for a new building.
“As long as we kick the can down the road, it’s not going to get cheaper,” the chief said. “The city of Baraboo needs adequate facilities for the essential services: police, fire and EMS. Fire and EMS are way behind.”
Bergin also spoke during the meeting after requesting her own time following Stieve, who was chastised for speaking about a topic not outlined on the agenda, and referred to the library as a state-mandated service similar to the fire department and EMS. Mayor Mike Palm took control of discussion after multiple people began talking and council member John Ellington called Stieve “way out of line.”
“There’s some passionate pleas; there’s need,” Palm said. “The fire station and the library are both worthwhile projects. We’re not here to debate which one’s better. We’re trying to figure out a way to get these buildings built without breaking the backs of the taxpayers.”
Council members also approved an agreement to spend $750,000 in contractual work by MSA Professional Services Inc. to complete preliminary plans for a new fire and EMS station, including site plans and identifying a location for a new building, steps the library already had taken.
Editor's note: This story was updated Thursday from its original version to reflect that the council member who moved to approve the loan application was Phil Wedekind.